The Royal Academy of Engineering welcomes the funding bodies’ initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021, published today

For the Academy and the engineering community, today’s announcement that there will be a single unit of assessment (UOA) for Engineering in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, rather than the four engineering UOAs in REF 2014, is a very significant change. Computer science and informatics will continue to retain its own UOA. While a single UOA for Engineering may confer advantages, such as consistency of approach, it is also clear that many issues will need to be addressed through continued consultation.

The Academy welcomes the recognition of the need to increase visibility for disciplines within broader UOAs. This will be of paramount importance with the introduction of a single UOA for Engineering.

Continued discussion between the engineering community, the funding councils and the engineering sub-panel will be critical to ensure the success of a single UOA for Engineering. The Academy stands ready to inform and facilitate such engagement.

The introduction of the assessment of impact in REF 2014 brought a welcome focus on the diverse impacts which can arise from research. The proposal to increase the weighting of impact to 25% in REF 2021 reinforces the importance of capturing benefits from research. In addition, the inclusion of the impact template as an explicit section in the environment element will further encourage institutions to embed their impact strategies within their research strategies. The Academy welcomes these changes.

As noted in the Dowling Review of Business-University Research Collaboration, REF 2014 had a positive influence on increasing the prominence of collaborations beyond higher education. We welcome the increased recognition REF 2021 will bring to these collaborations through the environment template.

The Academy also welcomes the measures set out to improve the representativeness of panel members and recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion. 

Responding to the initial decisions on the REF 2021, Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:

“The introduction of impact in REF 2014 has created a welcome step change in stimulating universities and researchers to articulate and ultimately improve the translation of their research into social, environmental or economic benefits. I am delighted that REF 2021 will increase the recognition of impact by increasing its weighting to 25%.

“Engineering is an exceptionally dynamic and diverse discipline, from civil engineering to electronic engineering and biomedical engineering. As a consequence, it has always presented a complex challenge for UOA configuration. It is clear from the Academy’s considerable engagement with the engineering community that there is no consensus view on the optimal engineering UOA configuration.

“While a single UOA for Engineering should allow emerging engineering disciplines and the collaborative nature of engineering research to be better captured, the engineering community will need to continue to work with funding councils and sub-panel members to ensure the best outcome for engineering research. Concerns around adequate visibility of all engineering disciplines, averaging of results and sufficient size and breadth of expertise across the sub-panel are all issues that will need to be addressed.

“Engineering is likely to be the largest sub-panel in terms of submissions and it will be incumbent on us all to ensure that our excellent engineering research and impacts get the recognition they deserve.”