As part of a consultation by the UK's higher education funding bodies the NIHR, as a major funder of health and clinical research, responded to the proposed research assessment protocols and processes for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) scheduled for 2021.
REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions and was first used to measure the quality and impact of University based research in 2014 (www.ref.ac.uk).
Our response to the consultation concentrates on research impact assessment and our interests as a health research funder. In summary:
- We have significant concerns over the proposed removal of Category C staff as we believe it weakens the impetus for translational research between Universities and the NHS – potentially increasing the barrier for cross-sector collaboration.
- We welcome the positive steps towards broadening and deepening the definition of impact. However, we stress that more needs to be done to enable the longer-term, non-linear impacts and evidence of co-production to be captured. The inclusion of models of public involvement and engagement will be essential.
- We believe that there is a risk that implementation of the non-portability proposal could potentially be highly damaging to early career researchers and those working across disciplines.
- We believe that REF 2021 should consider novel approaches to publishing and what constitutes an output, and whether such outputs (e.g. comprehensive project publication on a website) deserve increased weighting and credit to more than one author. Conversely, how an output from a body of work may be encapsulated in several brief e.g. electronic publications, but might be returnable as a single output should also be considered.