In December 2015 the Science Minister, Jo Johnson, announced a UK-wide review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) "to ensure that future university research funding is allocated more efficiently, offers greater rewards for excellent research and reduces the administrative burden on institutions".
The REF is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions and informs the allocation of research funding from the UK's four higher education funding bodies. The first round of this assessment process was completed in 2014 and reported last year. In REF2014 the impact of research was assessed for the first time, prompting the IES to compile an issue of the environmental SCIENTIST on The Impact of Environmental Science Research.
To begin, the review call for evidence was launched with submissions invited on a range of questions regarding the design and operation of the REF assessment process as a whole, as well as the definition of impact, and future changes to the system.
Excellent academic research is essential in our drive for a more sustainable society, and the assessment of the quality of this research is therefore an area of significant interest for the IES and our higher education committee: the Committee of Heads of Environmental Sciences (CHES). Based on our research and the views and experiences of CHES and IES members, we have prepared and submitted a joint response to this consultation.
In our response we call for more effective and standardised methods for dealing with the assessment of multi-disciplinary research, and suggest that adjustments to the current Unit of Assessment structure are required for Environmental Science research to be recognised appropriately. We also call for clarification in the definition of research impact, and caution against the use of metrics in assessment, which could increase 'gaming' of the system.
Our full submission, containing much more detail and explanation on these points and others can be downloaded below.