Reforms to the UK’s higher education, research and innovation system

The Royal Society is working closely with its Fellowship and the broader research and innovation community to engage the UK's higher education system.

The UK’s higher education and research system is undergoing extensive change. These changes include: 


The Government has committed to meet a target of 2.4% of GDP invested in UK R&D within ten years, and a longer-term goal of 3%. This is a key opportunity to ensure different parts of the future public funding system work together to maintain and grow our world-leading research system. The Society is working closely with its Fellowship and the broader research and innovation community to engage with these changes.

Reforms to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the development of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)

The REF governs one of the two complementary funding streams of the UK’s dual support system for research, providing block grants that can be used flexibly by institutions to support a sustainable high quality research environment, according to its research strategy. 

While its positive contributions to driving up research quality have been acknowledged, the REF is widely blamed for creating perverse incentives in the research system that are damaging to research excellence. Lord Stern was asked to review the system and published his findings in 2016. While it is not possible to remove all perverse incentives, and any assessment system is likely to have some unintended consequences, the Society agrees with the Stern review that an institutionally-focused REF that fully uncouples researchers and outputs can better incentivise the behaviours and environments that drive high-quality science. Read the Society’s recommendations on both REF 2021 and future framework exercises in full.

The Government has asked HEFCE to lead on developing the KEF, most recently in the Government's Industrial Strategy 'Building a Britain fit for the future' in November 2017.

There are two key strands to the KEF: Principles and good practice and KEF metrics. The Society is engaging with the consultation process. 

Linking to the Research Culture programme of work, the Society will consider the university frameworks needed for the future. 

The Higher Education and Research Act

The Higher Education and Research Act provided the statutory basis for the establishment of the new research and innovation funding body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as well as changes to the higher education landscape in England. Some of these proposals had already been outlined in the White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy. The Act takes forward the recommendations on reforming the research landscape from Sir Paul Nurse’s Review of the Research Councils. The UK National Academies produced a map of the proposed changes. Read the Society’s position in full.