REF- what happened in the end?

If you have been following this blog for a while you will be aware that I acted as the coordinator for the University’s REF submission for Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science. This ate up around 3 years of my life and involved a level of administrative work that I have never previously had to juggle. Well, the results were announced in December and the verdict is out…

Overall I would say that the outcome represents a quiet triumph for our unit and for everyone here who was involved in putting the submission together. For those of you who are not REF-savvy, the results are put together as follows. First of all, the each research unit is assessed against three different areas:

Outputs (worth 65% of overall assessment)- an assessment of the quality of the work published over 6 years

Impact (worth 20% of overall assessment)- an assessment of how the research of the unit affects the real world outside academia

Environment (worth 15% of the overall assessment)- an assessment of the quality of the unit’s infrastructure, research strategy and planning, external collaboration and esteem, research income, postgraduate completions and staffing policies

For each of these areas work is scored as 4*, 3*, 2*, 1* or unclassified (UC). 4* represents world-class and the 4-2* range indicates work of international quality. Our unit at Nottingham, comprising the Schools of Biosciences and Veterinary Medicine and Science, scored well with 97% of our work in the international quality range. The full results are below:

–                                 Percentage of work assessed as:
–                             4*             3*           2*          1*         UC

Outputs                19.8         53.9        23.6      2.2       0.5
Impact                  47            37          10          0         6.7
Environment         100          0             0           0         0
Overall                  37           43           17         1          2

This was very pleasing for several reasons. Firstly, my predictions of the outcome were generally accurate (amazingly) and where I was out in my crystal-ball gazing, the outcome was generally better than expected. The Environment result was great- the best within our unit of assessment nationally- and a particular source of personal pride as the 15 page Environment statement was the main block of writing that I had to deliver for the submission. In the text above I did mention ‘quiet triumph’ and the reason for this lies in the way in which REF outcomes are sorted into league tables and used (hopefully) to set budgets for Universities for the next five years or so.

REF league tables can be compiled in two ways. The first ranks institutions by GPA (Grade Point Average). This is essentially the average star rating for all elements of work within the unit. Our GPA increased from 2.7 to 3.12 between the last Research Assessment Exercise in 2008 and REF 2014. However, so did everybody else’s. This gives us a mid-table position in the GPA league table. This is a result of tactical decisions made by our competitors. They appear to have opted to make small, highly selective returns to REF. In fact very few institutions in our subject area returned more than 40 staff to REF, In contrast we returned 111 fte and included the vast majority of our staff.

REF Unit of Assessment 6 ranked by overall GPA.
REF Unit of Assessment 6 ranked by overall GPA. Click on image to get a clearer picture.

This is not the reason for the feelings of quiet triumph. There is a second way of ranking institutions in terms of REF results, and that involves a measure called Research Power (RP). RP is the product of GPA and the size of the return and is the more important measure as it is the basis of the calculation of the market share of the funding available for the Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science area. RP is the preferred measure of the University of Nottingham. For RP our unit was second placed, narrowly beaten by the University of Edinburgh.

Ranking of institutions in REF 2014 UoA6 by Research Power.
Ranking of institutions in REF 2014 UoA6 by Research Power. Click on image to get a clearer picture.

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