Inside Track | We have submitted the Research Excellence Framework, now what?

VC, Professor Simone Buitendijk, and DVC: Research and Innovation, Professor Nick Plant, celebrate the herculean efforts of colleagues across the University in putting together our REF submission.

The moment when the metaphorical big red button is pressed on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission of any institution is a momentous one. It is the culmination of years of planning and preparation, and thousands of hours of both academic and professional services staff time. So, what do we do now?

The first thing that we must do is to take a deep breath and collectively congratulate ourselves for a fantastic job. Putting together a REF submission is challenging at the best of times, especially for a large, complex organisation such as ours. But to do so while in the middle of a pandemic is an even more outstanding achievement. We cannot thank everyone enough – you have once again shown the dedication, tenacity and collective spirit that makes Leeds such a great place to work. We will have plenty of time for celebration and collective acknowledgement over the coming weeks, but I wanted to start this off with a simple thank you.

And we must remember that the REF process is not over: many of our academics will sit on the units of assessment (UoA) sub-panels assessing submissions, while professional support staff will be seconded to support these deliberations.

The results of the current REF submission will arrive toward the end of this year, providing us with much to celebrate, we are sure. But regardless of the result for any individual UoA, it is important that we do not fall foul of outcome bias: we genuinely believe that we have submitted the best possible set of UoA submissions, and that they accurately reflect our areas of current research excellence and those that are emerging.

We could not write an article such as this without at least touching on the ongoing debate around the format and future of assessment processes like REF. There are undoubtably challenges associated with REF, most notably the burden they place on staff in terms of preparing our submission, and the often-skewed lens they place on our activities. There is still much to do to make the REF a more representative system that clearly reflects the full diversity of ‘research excellence’, and one that does not drive perverse behaviours as institutions chase ‘a good result’. However, it is important to acknowledge that REF has supported some important changes across universities, such as open access publishing and the highlighting of impact as an important academic pursuit.

As we begin our new University Strategy, it is important that we take time to reflect on our activities, understanding how they can best support delivery of our exciting collective vision. Our REF submission will form an important part of this reflection, while being cognisant of its limitations. We must use this opportunity to take stock, share best practice and then build on the momentum that we have generated over the last few months and years.

Finally, we want to reiterate our thanks to everyone involved in the REF process; you have undertaken a herculean task over the last months and years to put together a submission that reflects the diversity, interdisciplinarity and excellence of our research. We are sure everyone across the University is grateful for your efforts.

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, Professor Nick Plant

Posted in: