REF 2021 - Code of Practice

Research Excellence Framework 2021 Code of Practice

Our 2017-2027 Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy sets out our vision to become recognized as a global leader of research, working with industry and wider society to address the challenges of living in an age in which the impacts of human activity dominate our planet’s climate and environment.

The strategy’s lead value is to empower and nurture our inclusive and diverse community of researchers to undertake excellent, rigorous and world-leading research.

The next iteration of the Research Excellence Framework in 2021 provides us with an invaluable opportunity to benchmark our approach.

This Code of Practice describes the processes, procedures, and decision-making principles that we will follow to ensure a fair and transparent approach to identifying staff for submission to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework.

It also outlines the roles and responsibilities of those individuals at the University of Salford who are directly involved in institutional oversight of REF and details how we will determine significant responsibility for research, identify research independence and select outputs.

Eligibility for REF2021

All academic staff employed on 31st July 2020 at the University on a contract of employment of 0.2 FTE or greater that specifies either a ‘research only’ or ‘teaching and research’ role are defined as being “Category A eligible” for submission to REF2021.

REF guidance states that each higher education institution (HEI) participating in the REF must return all eligible staff who have ‘significant responsibility for research’, and who fit the description of an ‘independent’ researcher.

Where an institution is not submitting 100% Category A eligible staff to REF, it is required to develop, document and apply a Code of Practice on the fair and transparent identification of staff for inclusion in REF, hence this document.

Our aim is to establish a merit-, principle-, and career-based approach for identifying staff to be submitted to REF, which is aligned to the University’s Academic Career Framework and supports the career development of researchers.

Our approach recognises that academic colleagues may want to change their primary career pathway focus and provides the flexibility to be eligible to re-enter the research career pathway.

Academic colleagues have been asked to opt in to be considered for significant responsibility for research via the completion of a personal 3-year research plan. Evaluation of research plans will define individuals with significant responsibility for research and those who are part of our ‘Next-Generation’ researcher cohort, and help inform decisions around allocation of resource for research, such as, provision of workload and training.

Identifying staff with significant responsibility for research

The REF definition of ‘significant responsibility for research’(SRR) is: “Staff for whom explicit time and resources are made available to engage actively in independent research and that is an expectation of their job role”.

For REF 2021, we have interpreted this as follows:

Staff for whom explicit time and resources are made available

If a colleague is deemed to have SRR through the assessment of their 3-year research plan, they should be allocated a minimum of 20% workload for research.

Colleagues designated as Next-Generation or Joining/Returning Researchers may have more or less than 20% of their time allocated for research development and this will be aligned to individual circumstances and needs, as outlined in their 3-year research plans.

To engage in independent research

Academic colleagues on ‘teaching and research’ contracts are assumed to be independent researchers. Their eligibility for submission to REF2021 will be determined by whether or not they are identified as having SRR.

Academic colleagues on ‘research only’ contracts must be independent researchers to meet the definition of Category A eligible.

Postdoctoral Research Associates and Research Assistants are not usually considered to be Category A eligible unless, exceptionally, they meet the definition of an independent researcher.

And that is an expectation of their job role

All colleagues with either SRR, or who have been defined as being Next-Generation or Joining/Returning Researchers, will have an expectation of research within their job role as defined by their 3-year research plan.

Those colleagues will have specified objectives relating to research activity and research career development within their Performance and Development Review (PDR).

Only those who can demonstrate a minimum level of research activity, defined as being at Level 1 in at least 3 areas of the Stages of Researcher Development Matrix (including ‘outputs’) will be defined by their School assessment panel to have SRR and will therefore be submitted to REF.

What if I don't achieve SRR status? 

One of the key features of our SRR process is the ability to identify and support those colleagues who are on the research career pathway but who have not yet reached the stage of being defined as having SRR.

These colleagues may be early career researchers (‘Next-Generation’) or Joining/Returning Researchers.

The defining characteristic of these academic colleagues will be the expectation that they will achieve SRR within 3 years, based on their track record, trajectory and research plans.

We recognise that time and support are key factors in enabling Next-Generation and Joining/Returning Researchers to develop, establish and deliver high-quality research plans and projects.

Those colleagues who are designated as being in this group will be able to access time and resources to support their research, as well as following a bespoke development programme that will help them move onto the research pathway and obtain SRR.

Over time this will help us develop a diverse and inclusive research community which allows new generations of researchers to become established in their fields and supports those who are entering from other career paths or have been away from research for an extended period of time.

Determining research independence

The REF definition of ‘an independent researcher’ is: “An individual who undertakes self-directed research, rather then carrying out another individual’s research programme”.

Our criteria for independent research status are as follows:

  • Acting as principal investigator, or equivalent, on an externally funded research project (currently funded or has been funded since 2014);
  • Holding an independently won, competitively awarded fellowship where research independence is a requirement;
  • Supervision of doctoral researchers

Any member of staff who’s research area is within Main Panels A and B who meets any of the above criteria would be defined as an independent researcher.

In addition, for units of assessment within Main Panels C and D, the following indicators have been provided as additional factors demonstrating independence in these disciplines:

  • Acting as a Co-Investigator on an externally-funded research project;
  • Having significant input into the design, conduct and interpretation of an externally-funded research project.

Selection of outputs

The REF definition of research outputs is the product of research that is: “a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.”

In previous REF and Research Assessment Exercises, only staff with four research outputs or special circumstances allowing a reduction in outputs, were eligible to be returned to REF. This led to significant issues with inclusion and diversity in staff selection across the Higher Education sector.

For REF2021 this has been changed to allow the University to submit staff with varying numbers of outputs, between a minimum of one and maximum of five. This is intended to support inclusion and diversity.

We also understand that all academic colleagues may, at some point in their career, experience circumstances that may restrict or prevent them from undertaking their research or devoting the same time and intensity as they would normally.

It is critical that such colleagues are not disadvantaged or compared with colleagues who have not experienced such circumstances.

With this in mind we have created safe, supportive, and confidential processes by which academic colleagues can voluntarily declare such circumstances and request that they are taken into account, in the secure knowledge that neither the circumstances, nor their declaration, will have any detrimental impact to their careers.