RCUK respond to REF pilot report

In a brief press release on their website, RCUK “welcomes the findings of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) pilot scheme that demonstrates it is possible to assess the economic and societal benefits arising from research and how this can be achieved across all disciplines.

Professor Dave Delpy, RCUK Impact Champion said: “RCUK is committed to supporting excellent research that ensures social wellbeing and economic prosperity and ultimately places the UK in a position of leadership on the world stage of research and innovation. We support the wide definition of impact, as set out in this report, which includes social, economic, cultural, environmental, health and quality of life benefits. This reflects the approach already adopted by RCUK through Pathways to Impact.”

RCUK has worked closely with the Funding Councils to ensure that proposals for the REF will be effective in pursuing shared objectives and will continue to support the REF by working with HEFCE to contribute expertise in developing impact assessment methodologies.”


REF – Expert panel members being recruited

It was announced today that panel members for the REF are now being recruited. Applications are needed by 17 September. Details of how to apply are available at:  http://www.hefce.ac.uk/research/ref/pubs/2010/01_10/.

The site also contains more detail about the subject coverage of the REF subpanels and the document “Units of assessment and recruitment of expert panels” gives an indication of the work involved in being a panel member.

REF panel chairs announced

The chairs of the 4 main panels which will be running the REF have been announced as follows:

  • Panel A: Professor Stephen Townley Holgate – MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology, University of Southampton
  • Panel B: Professor Dame Ann Dowling – Head of Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
  • Panel C: Professor Dame Janet Finch – Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester
  • Panel D: Professor Bruce Brown – Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research, Economic and Social Engagement), University of Brighton.
  • http://www.hefce.ac.uk/research/ref/panels/

    Blue skies? Willets, the REF, Research Impact and Research Funding

    Today, 9th July, the universities and science minister, David Willetts, in a speech to the Royal Institution, confirmed  that the REF is to be postponed for a year.  The problem with measuring economic impact of research would appear to be the primary reason. He has stressed the need to find a reliable measure of impact that would find consensus within the academic community. However, he also expressed the view that the significance of scientific research could not always be measured by its short-term economic impact, as with the unexpected benefits of blue skies research. “”The surprising paths which serendipity takes us down is a major reason why we need to think harder about impact.” Over the next year, the lessons of the pilot exercise and the experiences of other countries (e.g. Star Metrics in the USA) will be drawn upon.

    Willetts rejected the previous government’s thinking on funding of scientific research and innovation.

    You’re supposed to put money into university-based scientific research, which leads to patents and then spinout companies that secure venture capital backing. The mature business provides tax revenues for the Government, jobs for the local area, a nice profit for the university.

    Yet, he said, on average only 3% of university income ever came from commercialisation of  intellectual property.

    There were better ways of “harvesting the benefits from research”. Amongst these he said he favoured “clusters”, which he defined as “low-risk environment for high-risk activity”, citing the example of computer games and media companies based around Abertay University.

    Government backing for research does make economic sense, he said, and the Research Councils’ funding of scientific research was effective in “generating wider benefits across the economy as a whole”. There may be cuts ahead, but essentially the dual funding system was working and he supported the Haldane principle.

    In terms of his own thinking on policy for supporting and developing the research base, he believes that:

    1. Publicly funded research facilities ( Government support for “shared facilities – research platforms if you like – which private companies could not develop on their own”)
    2. Public procurement contracts given to innovative SMEs (“A purchasing contract can be as effective a way to get money to an innovative small business as a grant or a capital investment: this is particularly important at times when banks are so reluctant to lend.”
    3. Public competitions for new technologies (“And it need not be Government which sets the prize or the challenge – it can happen in marketplaces on the web too.”)

    You can read the speech in full on the BIS website or read reports from THE & The Engineer.

    REF postponed

    THE report that David Willetts will announce on 9th July that the Research Excellence Framework will be postponed for a year. The reason for postponement seems to be due to doubts about the effectiveness of measuring social, economic and cultural impact of research. He is reported to have said the need is for a measure of impact that is “methodoligically sound and that commands the assent of the academic community”. You can read the full article at the THE website.

    Report on Impact as a factor in the REF

    The Times Higher has a story reporting on a conference held at King’s College London last week. The director of research at HEFCE claims that a consensus is developing about how to measure impact in research.

    Read the THE story “Impact hostility is melting away

    Presentations from the conference at King’s College can be found at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/iss/support/ref/june2010

    Royal Society makes its case for Government investment in Scientific Research

    In a wide-ranging report,The Scientific Century: Securing Our Future Prosperity, the Royal Society makes its case for government investment in scientific research and improving education in the sciences.

    Warning of the dangers of any crude assessment of research impact, the report nonetheless regards recent clarifications from HEFCE regarding this element of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) as being reassuring.  It goes on to warn against the effects of any cuts in funding to academic scientific research, with a reminder how cuts in the mid-1980s led to researchers struggling “to remain at the cutting edge of their disciplines, using old equipment that they could not afford to replace”.  Investing in scientific research now, they argue, is vital: “Science and innovation are investments that are essential to short-term recovery and, more importantly, to long-term prosperity and growth.”

    Recommendations of the report align strategically with investment in: interdisciplinary research (including a call for a reform of research funding and assessment in relation to this); overseas collaboration; improved skills training (including ‘transferrable skills’) for PhD students in the sciences; and a call to create “strong global challenge research programmes, led by RCUK, to align scientific, commercial and public interests”.

    The report can be read in full on the Royal Society website at:http://royalsociety.org/the-scientific-century/

    Shadow Minister for Science & Innovation on REF & Impact

    In a recent Q&A on eGov monitor , the Shadow Minister For Science And Innovation, Adam Afriyie, said that he understood why researchers felt frustrated. He said that he wants to “work towards a clearer definition of the Haldane Principle” in order to preserve the independence of researchers and “blue skies research”.

    As to the REF, he said that his party, if elected, would “would postpone the Research Excellence Framework to ensure we are defining, measuring and applying impact correctly”.

    You can read the full Q&A at http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/33680