Beyond the REF: Making research count, making research accessible.

By Anthony Hudson and Carly Lightfoot.


This blog considers the value of institutional repositories not in only making research count, but also making it accessible to wider audiences. In the first part of the blog, drawing on an article by Carly Lighfoot, UEL’s Research Data Management Officer we provide a brief overview of the Research Excellence Framework (REF2021) and the requirement for Open Access. The second part of the blog considers the wider benefits of institutional repositories, particularly for staff who may not have the opportunity to disseminate their work through conference presentations and academic publications

Research Excellence Framework
The Research Excellence Framework is the system by which the four higher education funding bodies aim to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. Panels of reviewers appraise the quality of research outputs, their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research.  There will be four main panels which will provide ‘leadership and guidance’ to the 34 sub-panels (subject-based units of assessment) tasked to undertake expert review. Essentially it is a mechanism to assist the funding bodies in allocating quality-related research (QR) funding. This is one part of the ‘dual support’ system which was designed to enable research councils and higher education institutions to choose which areas of research to support at arm’s length from political control. Whilst funding from research councils provides grants for specific projects or programmes of research; HE funding bodies, such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) provide block grants to support institutions’ research priorities and fund their research infrastructure.

Staff and outputs
For many academic colleagues, submitting to the REF and having outputs which are considered REF-able is important, because of the impact it has on career progression within the academy.  The recent publication of REF2021 Decisions on staff and outputs provides guidelines for institutions to identify who is in scope for submission, the number of outputs required and the policy on open access. It seems expedient to remind colleagues of how to fulfil the Open Access requirements in order for their research publications to be eligible for submission to REF2021. The policy will require the final peer-reviewed manuscripts of outputs in scope – journal articles and conference proceedings published with an ISSN – must be deposited in an institutional or subject repository within 3 months of being accepted for publication. From 1 April 2018 a deposit exception will be introduced allowing outputs that are unable to adhere to the deposit timescale to be deposited within three months of the date of publication.

Research repositories
The majority of higher education institutions have an institutional repository or research archive. UEL’s repository is called ROAR: it contains a wide variety of research outputs including journal papers, book chapters, monographs, conference posters, theses and more.  Institutional repositories or research archives can enhance an institution’s profile, and as we have described above, manage research assets to meet the needs of funders. Open Access is about making research outputs accessible online. Within the academy this can lead to increased visibility and wider dissemination of work which may result in higher citation impact and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Beyond the academy there may be increased public engagement, and more equitable access to research for those less privileged.

About Tony Hudson

Currently undertaking doctoral research at the University of East London focusing on the learning career and academic identity of Access HE teachers.
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