WCC UK REF Consultation Event – summary of key points
We are very grateful to WCC UK member Christine Plastow of the Open University for writing up her notes of important take-away points and for sharing her response from our recent REF 2021 consultation event.
On Tuesday 18th September, the WCC UK met at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes to consult on the draft guidelines for submission for REF 2021. We were also able to livestream the event, and so were joined by colleagues around the country listening in and contributing. The event was led by Maria Wyke, the sub-panel chair for Classics, and Katherine Harloe, member of the Classics sub-panel and an interdisciplinary advisor for REF 2021.
Professor Wyke opened the discussion, stating that the event was an opportunity for the sub-panel to present the material produced by REF, and that REF were interested in gathering information about whether disciplinary interests have been addressed successfully in the draft guidelines. What follows here highlights the main points of discussion throughout the event.
Codes of practice
It was noted that institutions have been tasked with producing codes of practice prior to REF 2021 for the selection of staff and outputs for submission. The staff selected should be all of those with significant responsibility for research. Concern was expressed for the institution’s individual freedom in making these decisions. The sub-panel members asserted that codes of practice would be assessed by REF, in part against HESA definitions of staff roles. Codes of practice can be sent back for revision if deemed inadequate, and submissions could be damaged by institutions failing to provide a correct submission. However, if institutions do not adhere to their codes of practice once approved, this will need to be appealed by individuals within the institution, as the sub-panel will not be able to spot failure to adhere to the code of practice from the submissions. All codes of practice must include an appeals procedure.
Institutions will be expected to provide commentary on any adjustments to the submission due to special circumstances. However, decoupling of staff from submissions means that outputs are a group effort, and it may not be necessary to apply reductions to specific individuals. Two kinds of reductions are specified: defined reductions, such as maternity leave, where the reduction will be by a pre-set number of outputs; and reductions requiring judgement, generally more complicated circumstances, which will require assessment as to the reduction in number of outputs. The reduction in number of submissions for maternity leave since the last REF, from 1 output to 0.5 outputs, is due to the reduction in average number of outputs per staff member (from 4 to 2.5 outputs) and the longer assessment period of this REF (7 years, as opposed to 5 years for REF 2014).
A query was raised about the use of the word ‘eligible’ in section 180 of the draft guidelines. Attendees were concerned that this would permit universities to exclude staff with 2* research outputs. The sub-panel noted that universities would have to provide reasoning for any staff who were excluded, and that this would not be considered a valid reason. They also noted that the guidelines ought to encourage institutions to support all staff to produce excellent research, and that REF encourages this, although this may not be the effect in reality.
Both the institution and the department will be required to produce environment statements. The departmental statement should indicate the breadth and diversity of research in the department, discouraging clustering of submissions around individual staff members. The unit statement will respond to the institutional statement.
New arrangements for assessment of interdisciplinary research in REF 2021 have been designed to respond to concerns that interdisciplinary research was not well catered for in previous exercises. The inclusion of interdisciplinary research is considered challenging due to the separation of submissions into subject sub-panels. To combat this, the interdisciplinary advisor network has been introduced, of which sub-panel member Katherine Harloe is a member. Interdisciplinary flags can be attached to submissions, and the sub-panel will then assess whether they have the relevant expertise to assess the submission or will seek expertise on another sub-panel. Quality judgement will remain with the Classics sub-panel. Interdisciplinary submissions may be assessed more emphatically in terms of rigour, as they may not have equal originality and significance in all disciplines covered by their content.
Performance, creative practice, translations, TV, and digital media are now mentioned explicitly in the descriptor for outputs for the Classics sub-panel. In general, Panel D (Arts and Humanities) has indicated a wider range of eligible outputs than previously.
In Panel D, it’s expected that in most cases there will be no need to write a statement defining the contribution of each co-author on a given output. However, co-authored works can only be submitted once per unit (if both authors are within the same unit), unless they are eligible for double weighting.
The sub-panel noted that the majority of double-weighting requests were accepted in REF 2014.
Panel D will not use citation data. There will be no hierarchy of presses.
Impact does not need to be a liner progression from publication, and can in fact predate publication of underlying research. Impact reach will not be measured in geographical terms, or in number of impacted people. Continuing case studies will be welcome. Public engagement events can be a path to impact, or they can be where impact takes place. Impact cases should demonstrate the enrichment of understanding of the participants in a public engagement event, and the consequences of that event. Regarding television documentaries, simply appearing in once would be public engagement and require evidence of impact on audiences, whereas being involved in production can be impact if testimony can be provided from other producers or similar. Impact can also be on teaching within the institution, though this needs to be profound e.g. changes to the pedagogy of the whole department.
The sub-panel recommended that ECRs read the document on decisions on staff and outputs from 2017 for more information about their potential submissions. The sub-panel also suggested that ECRS look at the draft Guidance on Submissions section 197 onwards, which suggest that if they produce a work that is REFable while a Teaching Fellow, it can then be submitted under a new role so long as they are now a Category A member of staff (i.e. having responsibility for research); at an institution by the census date of 31 July 2020; and the work came out in the timeframe 1 Jan 2014 to 31 Dec 2020. The work of ECRs who move can be submitted at the institution they were at (if it was made publicly available there) and at the institution they go to, according to the criteria in section 197 onwards (that is, the same output can be submitted by two HEIs).
Consultation continues on the draft guidelines until the deadline of 15th October. The online consultation form can be accessed through the REF 2021 website.