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David Willetts announces review of the impact requirement in the Research Excellence Framework

In a speech to the Royal Institution, he said that the REF will be delayed by one year so that the Higher Education Funding Council for England…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


In a speech to the Royal Institution, he said that the REF will be delayed by one year so that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and its devolved counterparts can review whether there is a way of assessing impact that is methodologically sound and acceptable to the academic community. This will allow full use to be made of the pilot impact assessment exercise which concludes this autumn.

The Minister made the decision following discussions with HEFCE and members of the academic community.

David Willetts said:

“The surprising paths which serendipity takes us down is a major reason why we need to think harder about impact. There is no perfect way to assess impact, even looking backwards at what has happened.

“I appreciate why scientists are wary, which is why I’m announcing today a one-year delay to the implementation of the Research Excellence Framework, to figure out whether there is a method of assessing impact which is sound and which is acceptable to the academic community.

“This longer timescale will enable HEFCE, its devolved counterparts, and ministers to make full use of the pilot impact assessment exercise which concludes in the Autumn, and then to consider whether it can be refined.”

The Minister made the announcement during his first major speech on the Government’s vision for science in the UK, held in the world-famous Faraday Lecture theatre at the Royal Institution, home to the popular Christmas Lectures.

The delay would result in the completion of the first REF in 2014 to inform funding from 2015. This would mean that Higher Education Institutions would make their submissions in 2013.

His speech also revealed:

  • The importance of government’s support for shared facilities such as the £26 million Research Complex at Harwell, a state-of-the-art laboratory which is opening today at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxford. This new £26 million lab, next to the Diamond Light Source, the ISIS neutron source and the Central Laser Facility, will allow researchers to work side-by-side with beam line experts in fields ranging from drug development to novel materials.

  • Evidence of particularly strong spillover benefits from R&D spend on Research Councils, demonstrating that Research Council spend is doing the job it should be doing - generating wider benefits across the economy as a whole, which individual companies might not be able to capture.

  • The need for smarter public procurement, for example along the lines of programmes such as Skynet, the UK’s single biggest space project system and the provider of secure satellite telecommunications for Britain’s armed forces. With Skynet, the Ministry of Defence purchased a service, and requests further capability as necessary, but does not the own the Hardware. This frees Astrium to sell spare bandwidth to other government departments and friendly states, reducing MoD costs.

The Minister also wants to ensure that the UK develops the intellectual capacity to react to scientific advances however or wherever they arise and capitalise on them through homegrown research programmes and business initiatives.

David Willetts added:

“Some 95% of scientific research is conducted outside the UK. We need to be able to apply it here - and in advanced scientific fields, it is often necessary to conduct leading-edge research in order to understand, assimilate and exploit the leading edge research of others.

“We are already doing this. For example, the first model for computer tomography arose in South Africa but the UK made the first CT scanner. The challenge is to use and improve existing methods for making the best use of our excellent science base to drive sustainable economic growth.”

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Published 9 July 2010