Today is the REF 2021 deadline and to celebrate our submission, Professor Davide Mattia, Associate Dean (Research), reflects on the Faculty’s journey over the last six years preparing for the REF and how our research has made a difference.
Author: Professor Davide Mattia -
What is the REF and why is it important?
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system from Research England for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions every six or seven years. The REF is a process of expert review carried out by panels comprising senior academics, international members and research users.
The purpose of the REF is to provide accountability for public investment in research and benchmarking information. The results will inform the allocation of research funding, along with establishing reputational measures. But perhaps most importantly, the REF highlights the positive global impact of UK research on the environment, economy and policy, to name just a few.
There are three elements in each submission that will be assessed:
- Quality of outputs, e.g. publications (60%)
- Impact of research beyond academia (25%)
- The environment supporting research (15%)
Submissions are graded by star ratings of up to 4* (world-leading) in terms of originality, significance, rigour, reach and vitality.
There are 34 subject-based units of assessment (UoA) in REF 2021. All four departments in the Faculty submitted together in UoA 12: Engineering. Our submission includes a 15,200-word Environment Statement, 393 outputs and 9 Impact Case Studies, detailing our research to lower carbon emissions, reduce waste, improve manufacturing and protect our infrastructure.
From our Impact Case Studies alone, our research has led to the reduction of over 788,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, which is equivalent to the emissions produced by over 170,000 average cars driven for a year. We have helped to drive economic growth with an increase in revenue of over £162 million per year for our industrial partners and savings of approximately £116 million for electricity customers.
Our REF journey
Today, 31 March 2021, is the deadline for REF 2021 submissions. Our preparations started following the previous REF in 2014. Many colleagues from across the Faculty have been involved from the outset, with support from the Research Information & Impact team in RIS and the Library Open Access team.
Over the years, the Faculty REF output review team has reviewed almost 2,500 publications, providing feedback to colleagues; we have also facilitated over 20 REF paper workshops for academic staff and PhD students, and introduced impact workshops specifically designed for early career researchers. We have prepared submissions for 4 internal University REF exercises, in addition to the final submission. These submissions included draft Impact Case Studies, which our Impact Leaders have continued to develop each year. All academic colleagues helped to inform the environment statement and drafted 100-word commentaries to accompany each output included in the final submission.
Our submission has been overseen by the Faculty REF Delivery Group, which included Prof.s Gary Hawley, Tim Ibell, Patrick Keogh, Nick Mitchell (then Dr Pedro Estrela) and myself. Alison Ryan, our Faculty Executive Coordinator, has played a key role in our submission, coordinating the review of outputs, the collection of information for the Environment Statement and the extended review process we have followed for the past 6 years.
In early 2020, COVID-19 significantly affected all aspects of higher education and REF was no exception. With only months to go until the REF deadline (originally in November 2020) it became clear that the submission could not go ahead as planned. In recognition of the additional challenges faced by universities, Research England made the decision to pause REF for four months in 2020 and the submission deadline was extended to 31 March 2021.
Even with the extended deadline, many colleagues involved in the REF preparations suddenly faced additional pressures, including the necessity of moving teaching and assessment online, increased caring responsibilities and carrying out COVID-19 related research. This was in addition to the uncertainty that has faced us all over this past year. The global pandemic has certainly emphasised the huge importance of research in both fighting and protecting us from COVID-19. Despite these challenges, we have succeeded in completing our REF submission - a huge achievement for all involved.
Preparing the REF 2021 submission has been a significant effort for many colleagues and has been achieved through their dedication and perseverance. Our REF submission is the cumulation of years of hard work and is testament to the global impact of our research. Thank you and well done to everyone involved.