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ECU has responded to the consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework

The four UK higher education funding bodies have set out their proposals for the second Research Excellence Framework (REF) for the assessment of research in UK higher education institutions.

Their proposals seek to build on the first REF conducted in 2014 and incorporate the principles identified in Lord Stern’s independent review of the REF.

ECU has responded to the consultation based on our knowledge of equality and diversity in higher education, and our experience ensuring equality considerations were built into various aspects of the Research Excellence Framework 2014.

ECU welcomes the proposals to maintain continuity of the approach with REF 2014 in particular the principles of equity, equality and transparency.  We also highlight that the equality measures within such exercises have the potential to generate long term systemic change by establishing new standards for expected practice in relation to equality and diversity.

In our response ECU also emphasises that the proposal for non-portability of outputs appears to have a negative impact on age, gender and race equality but that further analyses of data is required. Non-portability of outputs would affect more academics under the age of 35 as they are more likely to be on fixed term contracts than academic staff over the age of 35. In addition, 37.8% of women academics are on fixed term contracts in comparison to 33.3% of male academics and more black and minority ethnic (BME) staff (34.4%) are on fixed term contracts than non BME staff (30.3%). More BME staff are also within the younger age groups. The information provided here is based on ECU’s Equality in higher education: statistical report 2016.


  • That targets are set for staff groups that were underrepresented on panels in REF 2014: targets could be set by main and sub-panels in consultation with the Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP).
  • That the nominations approach used for REF 2014 is continued and that guidance is provided to subject communities and professional bodies on collecting data on equality characteristics, considering equality and diversity and the actions they can take to ensure diverse nominations for REF 2021 and in future.
  • In the event that an average number of outputs is determined, factors beyond FTE are considered to prevent inadvertent discrimination occurring.
  • The definition of impact is expanded to specifically mention equality.
  • Should the UK funding bodies proceed with an institutional level of assessment only, employment practices which promote equality for the protected characteristics within the public sector equality duty of the Equality Act – age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation – all require consideration in relation to institutions’ diversity strategies.
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Consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework