by GK Strategy 5th June, 2019

REF 2021 is coming – here’s how you can make an impact

What is REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is used to assess the quality of research at UK universities, and determine funding for the next 7 years. The next REF review will take place in 2021, and will assess universities’ research outputs, environment, and impact. A total of £2 billion will be allocated in total, with those with the best ratings receiving the highest proportion of this.

The importance of the REF ‘impact’ score should not be underestimated – for the first time, in 2021, ‘impact’ will be worth 25% of an overall REF score, up from 20% in 2014. Universities are increasingly being expected to demonstrate the impact of their research in wider society. With a four-star rating worth the equivalent of £100,000 a year of funding over 7 years, HE institutions cannot afford to overlook impact.

Impact is broad, and difficult to define in  measurable terms, which is perhaps one reason why the REF guidelines have not done so, simply describing impact as ”an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.” Influencing policy is one tangible way that universities can demonstrate measurable impact ahead of 2021, while promoting the value of academic research in informing policy and increasing its effectiveness.

What’s the point of engaging with Government? Why do policymakers need academics?

Engaging with policymakers is not just valuable for REF. The HE sector is currently facing increased scrutiny and pressure to demonstrate the value universities provide for students and to society. Positive engagement with policymakers will raise the profile of your work and your university’s work, demonstrating the vital role that academic research plays in underpinning effective policymaking. Effective policy requires a sound evidence base, yet many Ministers and officials lack the time and resource to seek it out.

How to make an impact?

While almost all universities will attempt to increase the impact of existing pieces of research, to truly make an impact, proactively engaging with Government is crucial.  Find out what gaps exist in policy teams’ knowledge, then collaborate to develop relevant research, rather than trying to fudge your existing work to fit a Department’s priorities.  Start thinking about impact from the beginning of the research process and develop an objective for impact. This could include raising awareness of the University’s research among certain departments or committees, influencing specific policies, or being seen as an expert on a certain subject. It’s a good idea to have relevant stakeholders in mind from the beginning of the research process too. Engaging these groups as early as possible will help ensure your organisations’ research is relevant and increase the chances of a receptive response upon completion.

How can GK help?

GK Strategy’s specialist education team provides a range of services to help improve your organisation’s REF score. We offer policy workshops with small groups of academics, tailored to each cohort’s research interests and previously published work.  These workshops cover everything from an overview of how parliament works, to tools to influence government and upcoming opportunities unique to each subject area. We also provide clients with ongoing support to identify future opportunities and help academics prepare consultation responses or for giving oral evidence to a select committee, to ensure that their research reaches the right people and makes an impact.


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