The four higher education (HE) funding bodies have published a report analysing the representativeness of the full REF panel membership across the protected groups. The ‘Analysis of full REF 2021 panel membership’ (REF 2021/01) summarises the equalities characteristics of the members appointed to the expert panels for REF 2021, and compares this with the characteristics of the pool of nominees for panel membership, the expert panels in REF 2014, as well as the UK population of permanent academic staff and permanent professors. The report updates an earlier analysis in 2019 of the membership in place for the criteria-setting phase of REF 2021.
The report shows clear progress made in increasing the representation of members from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds on the REF panels. Panel members from these backgrounds make up 11% of REF 2021 appointed panellists compared with 5% in REF2014. The current analysis also shows this proportion has increased from 7% in the criteria phase. This follows further action in subsequent appointment rounds that aimed to address the limited progress identified in the 2019 report.
The proportion of REF 2021 panel members from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds is now in line with that observed in the wider population of professors in the UK. However, while progress has been made, the data show that there is still more work to be done to align more closely with the general academic population.
The new analysis also continues to show positive trends in the representativeness of the panels, as first identified in the criteria-phase report. This includes significant increases in: female representation – females now make up 45% of appointed panellists, compared with 33% in REF2014; and the representation of appointed members with a declared disability, which has seen an increase from 1% in the previous exercise to 5%.
These improvements follow a wider set of measures introduced by the funding bodies at the outset of the 2021 exercise, aimed at increasing representativeness on the REF panels. This included tailored ‘Fairness in REF’ training in advance of panel selection processes and a new requirement for information on equality and diversity considerations to be provided by those organisations nominating candidates for membership.
This analysis will be considered in detail by the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP) in its final report in 2022. The report will include reflections from the panel, as well as any recommendations for the funding bodies to consider for future exercises.