Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

People, Culture and Environment in REF 2029: the journey continues

  • 17 May 2024
  • By Duncan Shermer
  • This HEPI blog was kindly authored by Duncan Shermer, Head of Research Excellence Framework (REF) Evaluation and Development, and who is leading the REF PCE pilot exercise.
  • This is the latest in a series of pieces on the HEPI blog discussing REF2029. In March, we discussed People, Culture and Environment (PCE); in April, we discussed small and specialist institutions; and earlier in May, we talked about research integrity.
  • HEPI partner Taylor and Francis is hosting a webinar on translational research on Wednesday 5th June: you can register here.

The REF team recently announced updates on the development of People, Culture and Environment (PCE) for REF 2029 and opportunities for the research community to engage with the development of this aspect of the exercise. The REF has always been a shared endeavour with the sector and our focus continues to be co-developing the REF 2029 exercise with the research community.

We outlined opportunities to “join the journey” in a recent HEPI blog and applications for HEIs to participate has recently closed. We have now opened the opportunity for applications for individuals to participate as pilot panel members. For both of these opportunities we are seeking the broadest possible representation of people, experience, knowledge and background to give us the best possible insight into the assessment of PCE within the REF.

We want to understand how the assessment of PCE could work within the REF exercise and we know that this is not something that can be a one-size-fits-all approach. Our goal is to understand the approaches within the sector to supporting positive research culture and how these differ between institutions and subject areas. As Emma Wakelin outlined in her recent blog, different types of institutions have different perspectives, and therefore an appropriate indicator for a healthy research culture for a large multi-faculty institution might not be appropriate for a small specialist. And research-intensive institutions might have access to a different range of data and metrics than those HEIs with a different mission. There may be advantages with working at scale, or of capturing the complexities of working across a broad range of Units of Assessment (UoAs), which are only surfaced for large institutions. Such things should not be barriers to participation and success in the REF; we want the REF to be a good fit for the wide range of operating models within the HE sector.

There is unlikely to be a single solution to the challenge of assessing PCE and we are open to flexible approaches being used to assess institutions with different missions, or in different subject areas. While we cannot pilot every UoA of the REF, there will be lessons learned from the UoAs we are piloting that can be applied more broadly across the exercise. And while we can’t include all HEIs in the pilot exercise, we will select a sample which is representative of the broad range of practice within the sector.

But the fact that we are recruiting people to be on the assessment panels gets me thinking about the people part of PCE. We are aware that the REF affects research culture, and this has an impact on people. We want to use REF 2029 to shine a light on research culture, to identify and reward healthy research culture, and therefore to drive it in a positive direction. And we hope this will have a positive impact on people doing research.

In the pilot exercise we’re looking for panel members with expertise in research assessment, an understanding of research culture, and an appetite to help develop a sensible, practical and robust approach to the assessment of PCE in the REF 2029 exercise.

We are asking applicants to meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Experience of research assessment, for example served on a REF panel or other national assessment exercise 
  • Experience of research submissions, for example coordinated an institutional or unit-level submission for the REF 2021 exercise 
  • General expertise in PCE, for example an institutional role focusing on a field related to research culture, or involved in other groups or organisations with an active interest in PCE 

Why these criteria? We are at an exploratory stage with the assessment of PCE and need to find out what skills and experience are most pertinent to the assessment. We know we will need panel members with experience relevant to the practical running of the pilot panels. And we will also need people who understand the impact of research culture within and across the sector and have creative ideas about how to measure and assess it.

But what else is going to be important to the robust assessment of PCE? Please do tell us your views. There is space in the application form for you to outline the expertise you will bring to the panel, and this will help us build our understanding of what might be needed. We want to hear your views on how assessment of PCE can be done and how it can be scaled up in a practical way for REF 2029.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Get our updates via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *