Responsible metrics & the future of research assessment

May 2022 was a momentous month for research funding in the UK, with the release of the results of the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021), the periodic assessment used as the basis for allocating around £2 billion of quality-related research funding to UK universities each year. RoRI has been active in providing expert analysis of the results, and in contributing to debates over how the REF and related exercises in other countries could be strengthened, simplified and improved. 

James Wilsdon, RoRI’s director, spoke to Times Higher Education about the challenges of reforming the REF, which after 35 years in differing formats, is now tightly bound up with the management and culture of UK research. Yet despite this, as he argued in Nature, “the stars are now aligning to support a more radical overhaul of the exercise than at any point in the past 20–25 years.”

In the UK system, attention now moves to the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP), an ambitious process of evaluation and analysis, designed to inform the design of any future exercise. As one strand of this, James Wilsdon has been asked—with Stephen Curry and Elizabeth Gadd—to undertake a short updated review of the role of metrics in the assessment system. This will build on the comprehensive 2015 review The Metric Tide, which Wilsdon chaired. At Research Professional, the co-leads of the new review list its “four tightly defined objectives” and detail the envisaged process. And in Times Higher Education, Wilsdon emphasises that, although members of the team have well-established positions on these issues, its outcomes are “no forgone conclusion”

Offering his own reflections on what follows REF 2021, David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England, gave a shout-out to RoRI—noting the progress made during our pilot phase and the strengths of a consortium where all partners share a commitment to transformative and translational research on research.