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An expert panel appointed to test the feasibility of assessing the research environment at whole-university level has reported its findings. The institutional-level environment pilot panel (ILEPP) reviewed submissions from the 157 universities that participated in REF 2021. The report sets out ILEPP’s key findings and makes recommendations to the funding bodies on inclusion of institutional-level assessment in future exercises. 

The panel concluded that: 

  • Institutional-level assessment has the potential to reduce burden for universities in preparing REF submissions and provides valuable recognition of the support for research and impact at that level.
  • It should replace the current unit-level model for assessing the environment, that was used in REF 2021 and previous exercises.
  • Detailed refinements will be needed, including a more structured and data-based template, to ensure the process is sufficiently robust. 

The four UK higher education funding bodies welcome publication of the pilot’s findings. The report will feed into the Future Research Assessment Programme, to inform the arrangements for a future exercise. The four funding bodies commenced the pilot exercise in response to the recommendations of an independent review of the REF in 2016, led by Lord Stern. The recommendation for a separate assessment of the institution’s research environment aimed to reduce duplication in the submission process, and to recognise and reward those aspects of the environment that reflect the strategy, support and actions of the institution as a whole.

Professor Chris Day, Vice Chancellor and President of Newcastle University, chaired the pilot panel. Commenting on the pilot’s findings, he said:

‘I was delighted to chair the pilot panel through our important work. The pilot showed the feasibility and real value of introducing institutional assessment. My panel is clear in the view that assessment at this level has much to offer universities: in reducing the workload involved in producing multiple unit statements, and in supporting a ‘coming together’ across an institution to identify, reflect on and develop the strategies and resources invested in research and delivering impact from it.’