Independent report on Future Research Assessment Programme released

The International Advisory Group (IAG) was established two years ago to give independent advice to the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) via the FRAP Board.

Its report is released today alongside initial decisions from the FRAP Board.  The IAG’s role was to give an international perspective and to challenge officials on the high-level principles rather than to get into operational details.

The 32-page report details the considerations and discussions by the IAG. It makes 13 recommendations and provides additional commentary. In particular, it notes:

  • The ultimate goal of the REF is to ensure that the UK continues to deliver research excellence.
  • The REF shouldn’t be just a system for distribution of funding, the goal is to ensure a sustainable UK research system. It should therefore be forward-looking and assessment should be based far more on how institutions develop forward looking strategy and environment and much less on past performance by individuals.
  • But the purposes of the exercise need to eb focused to. continue to provide a source of research funding linked to research excellence; give accountability for this research funding; and provide system-wide and institutional data for performance enhancement at those levels.
  • Inherently terms like quality, excellence, impact are imprecise but the desire for greater precision exists because the it is linked to funding . This creates burdensome processes and cost as does its use, both appropriate and inappropriate by institutions beyond the needs of the REF. The report suggests ways in which costs might be reduced.
  • The report notes the global trend away from use of traditional bibliometrics to assess research quality
  • The exercise has significant impact on research culture and the UK’s research and innovation landscape as a whole. It is therefore important at the institutional level to develop ways of recognising and rewarding positive research culture – hence the focus on the Institution rather than the individual.
  • Therefore the balance between research outputs, research impact and research environment needs to change significantly. The report suggests 33% for each component.
  • Cross disciplinary and transdisciplinary research needs to be given greater emphasis.
  • It notes the global trend away from use of traditional bibliometrics to assess research quality
  • There are, of course, wider issues within the research sector (EDI and representation, support of transdisciplinary research, toxic research culture etc). The REF should not be blamed for these and cannot be seen as the sole tool for fixing these issues.
  • Work needs to be done to develop useful proxies of the institutional environment
  • It is almost certain that further evolution of the REF will be needed after 2028. Any change in research assessment will have both intended and unintended consequences. There remain emergent challenges which will need further consideration. Further consideration may be needed even before then of the impact of generative AI on research production and outputs.
  • The REF and the UK research system must be viewed in an international context. This means far less focus on traditional output measures such a classic bibliometrics. For development of this and future exercises, funding bodies should continue to engage, for example, engaging with the GRC and with COARA.

The IAG notes that much of its report is well reflected in the FRAP board’s initial report.

The report can be found at the Future Research Assessment Programme website and at the Koi Tū website.

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