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Times Higher Education report on the latest news from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on the next Research Excellence Framework (REF), due in 2021.

The weighting of Impact case studies is set to increase from 20% in the last exercise, to 25% in REF2021. Additionally, they say that the Stern recommendation to introduce 'Institution-wide imact case studies' will instead be piloted, rather than fully implemented this time around.

The consultation on this and staff portability issues will close at the end of the month and HEFCE are expected to respond in the autumn.

If you're not familiar with the REF, you can find out more on the REF website.  

In a nutshell, it's the way that the quality of research is judged at higher education institutions that then dictates the amount of a block grant received - the better you do, the more money you get. Oxford has traditionally done very well.

Impact was introduced in the last exercise as a way of establishing, well, what impact government-funded research had as an extra dimension to research (academic) excellence.

Impact, often misunderstood, means the effects or changes as a result of research activity outside academia - be it economic, social, environmental, etc. So impact isn't just the things you do or create (e.g., a podcast, a news interview, a workshop), but the effects of those outputs.

Public Engagement is a valid route to impact and one that featured in quite a few impact case studies from Oxford in the last REF.

In a blog post James Wilsdon said, "HEFCE sources emphasize that there was no explicit pressure from ministers to increase the impact weighting. Nor does the reference to industrial strategy signal any retreat from the broad sweep of impacts rewarded through the last REF, or a push to privilege economic and commercial impacts over those on society, culture, public policy, health or quality of life."

Indeed, NCCPE carried out an analysis of Public Engagement as featured in impact case studies from REF2014 and found that of the over 6,000 case studies, just under half of them made some reference to engaging the public; 731 specifically feature 'public engagement'. Importantly, they didn't find any significant difference in scores of the case studies that mentioned public engagement versus those that didn't.

It's well worth reading the report (key findings summarised on page 8), though keeping in mind that the evidence cited in the case studies was assessed to be 'often weak', so it's worth noting that the guidance for the next REF may well be more robust, and worth thinking about as early as possible.

You can search the database yourself, and we have a collated Oxford impact case studies mentioning public engagement in some form, so get in touch if you'd like to see this (many thanks to Lesley Paterson and Luke Caunt for doing the hard work!).

Keep your eyes peeled for more news on how the next REF will work, and how MPLS will be looking to support departments.