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31 January 2019

Over the last year members of Main Panel A have worked hard to bring the Guidance on submissions and the Panel criteria together, which have just been published on the REF website. The process has been a highly consultative one and in bringing together the documents, panel members and the REF team have benefitted from the feedback submitted by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) following the publication in summer 2018 of the documents in draft form. We have worked to build on the attributes of the REF process which worked particularly well in 2014 and at the same time have focussed significant efforts in areas that are new or which may present challenges to HEIs, particularly those resulting from Stern’s recommendations. In our discussions we have been valuably supported by our “user” group which includes representatives of funders and industry. We wanted to use the opportunity presented by the publication of the Guidance on Submissions and Panel criteria to provide reassurance, particularly about those areas that are different from the 2014 exercise or which elicited significant feedback during the consultation period.

Although the retrospective analysis of the results from 2014 demonstrated that interdisciplinary research (IDR) was not disadvantaged, we are aware that institutions may have been reluctant to submit such work to the exercise. By establishing key interdisciplinary advisors across the main- and sub-panels, we have established a mechanism that can give the community clear confidence that we are equipped to evaluate effectively and fairly all submitted IDR. We strongly endorse its submission, particularly because of the growing value of interdisciplinary/team science to the UK.

We have explored how best to support and represent the activity undertaken by the neuroscience and psychology communities that will be submitted to UOA4. We are aware that there are some concerns over the differential tariff attached to this UOA. However, we are extremely keen to see unitary neuroscience and psychology returns to UOA4 – best reflecting the UK’s clear strength and growing interdisciplinarity in this area. Following feedback from the relevant subject communities, it has been decided not to request information on cost-weighting through the exercise. We are grateful to those institutions who took part in the pilot that also informed our decision.

We are particularly keen to encourage the community to submit their very best impact narratives as case studies, whether new or continuations of those seen in 2014; to reflect the acknowledged vibrancy and high international standing of translational activity in the UK’s health and life sciences sector.

Finally, there have been concerns, particularly in UOA3, that the requirement for a single submission may disadvantage particular professional groups. In moving to the expectation of a single submission to each UOA, we are reflecting in part the advice and guidance of our funders and users. However, we are keen to ensure the visibility of the individual disciplines and professional groups submitted to sub-panels in Main Panel A. We are exploring with the REF team how, after completion of the assessment and led by our users and international advisors, we can compile and deliver an overarching report on the conduct of the process itself and a “state of the nation” review of the UK’s health and life sciences research sector on a national rather than an institutional basis.

While at times challenging, bringing the process together has been an enjoyable and rewarding task and I know I speak for the whole panel when I wish colleagues well in compiling their submissions. I thank the panel membership and our secretariat and the REF staff for their hard work. We look forward to an exercise which I believe will once again demonstrate the vibrancy and strength of the UK’s health and life sciences sector.