By Professor Paddy Ireland and Professor Tim Peters, Interim Pro Vice-Chancellors (Research and Enterprise)
This week, the national REF team based at Research England wrote to all institutions to outline their position in relation to contingency planning for coronavirus (COVID-19) and REF 2021.
In light of this ongoing unprecedented situation, the team has taken the decision to postpone REF 2021 until further notice. This means the REF submission deadline of 27 November 2020 will no longer apply and a new submission date will be announced no later than eight months prior to the next deadline.
This move represents a welcome recognition from the team that the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis will continue to divert staff resource to other critical areas for some time to come, something particularly true of staff working in clinical and health-related areas.
However, the team is clear that the staff census date (31 July 2020) remains unchanged and work is underway to develop an amended framework that takes account of the impact of COVID-19 on universities. This suggests that eligibility dates around outputs and impact could be extended, although this not confirmed. Instead, the team will consult on the details of the amended framework once the impact of COVID-19 disruption to universities is more widely understood.
How then should we adapt our own REF preparations in response? Following consultation with Faculty Research Directors and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor/Provost, we have decided to continue as planned, adhering as far as possible to the various internal deadlines we have set. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, it remains unclear how long the delay will be. Secondly, we are aware that when things return to something resembling ‘normal’, many colleagues involved in REF preparations are likely to be very busy.
In these circumstances, it would be wise to get as much done now as we can. For example, if the outputs and impact deadlines are extended, we might have a lot of new work to do (reading outputs, assessing and calibrating them, engaging in new, post-July 2020 impact evidence gathering etc.) when the new 8 month window is opened – just as colleagues are having to grapple with new modes of teaching delivery for possibly delayed 20/21 UG and PGT entries.
In short, it is important that we are in as strong a position as possible when the new deadline clock starts ticking.
We are acutely aware that for some colleagues, meeting these deadlines might not be feasible. Clinical colleagues, for example, may well be engaged in more urgent matters. There may also be significant constraints on impact evidence gathering between now and the 1 May deadline.
We will of course keep these matters under constant review in what is a very volatile environment.
Needless to say, we have been delighted with the progress that colleagues have made with their submissions in recent months, and are very appreciative of the effort you have all made to date.
We want to do everything we can to ensure our submission is as strong as possible and accurately reflects the world-class excellence of Bristol research that you all enable.