The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 will be postponed “until further notice” in order to allow universities time to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
In an announcement published today (Tuesday 24 March), REF director Kim Hackett said: “We recognise that institutions are needing to divert staff resource to other critical areas, including for those working in clinical and health-related fields.
“We wish to reassure institutions that such activities should be prioritised without concern for the effect on REF preparations. We are putting the exercise on hold until further notice to enable this and are now working on the adapted details of the framework.”
The REF submission deadline is no longer 27 November 2020 – Dr Hackett said universities would be given eight months warning before the new deadline is set.
“We will ensure full allowance is made for the impact of coronavirus across affected areas of submissions. The funding bodies recognise the significant effort that has been invested so far by institutions in preparations for the current REF cycle,” the REF director said.
The REF staff census data of 31 July 2020 currently remains unchanged. The statement continued: “However, we are at an early stage of understanding the full impact on universities as they respond to calls to support the national effort in the face of Covid-19.”
Dr Hackett reassured universities that Research England and the devolved funding bodies would “consult on the adapted details of the framework” once there is “greater clarity about the period of serious disruption to universities”.
The deadline for nominations to the expert panels is no longer 3 April, but nominations can continue until further notice.
The minister for science, Amanda Solloway, sent a letter to universities today thanking them for them “for the vital work currently being carried out across the research sector to address the impacts of Covid-19”.
While many researchers would need to work from work and some projects put on hold, Ms Solloway encouraged universities to continuing working on key science and research projects where possible, such as:
- Science and research which is considered to be of critical urgency or importance – this may be for medical reasons or for reasons of national security;
- Science, research or technical work where the pausing of activity is either not possible or would severely impede research delivery – for example, this may include very long-term experiments or projects where the time frequency of observation is critical;
- Science, research or technical work which requires ongoing maintenance and supervision activity – this may be for reasons of regulatory, legal or health and safety or other on-going requirements. For example, this would include the care of living specimens, including animals, plants and bacterial cultures. It may also include research which makes use of hazardous materials or which involves the regular maintenance of key equipment or facilities.
In her letter, Ms Solloway said it was up to universities and research institutes to balance “the need to support ongoing activity with the requirement towards ensuring the health and wellbeing of staff and researchers within your care”.
During this period of upheaval, the minister called on employers to “provide continued and meaningful assurance to their staff” about their employment terms and conditions in the short and medium term.
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