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

® Susan Chiang

17 March 2017

The UK’s higher education and research system is currently facing significant changes. These include the proposed establishment of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Office for Students (OfS), the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), and reforms to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). 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)

The REF governs one of the two complementary funding streams of the UK’s dual support system for research, providing block grant 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 last year. The Funding Councils are now consulting on ways to implement Stern’s recommendations. 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 in full, and views from one of the grant-holders we’ve involved in their development.

The Higher Education and Research Bill

The Higher Education and Research Bill was introduced to the House of Commons in May (find out more about its progress through Parliament). 

It includes proposals to create a new research and innovation funding body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as well as changes to the higher education landscape in England, as outlined in the White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy. The White Paper and Bill, amongst other things, 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.

  • UK National Academies briefing on research proposals in the Higher Education and Research Bill

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  • The Royal Society response to Lord Stern's review

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  • Consultation response: Royal Society positions on second Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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  • An overview of proposed changes to UK research

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  • The Royal Society comments on higher education white paper

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  • The Royal Society comments on appointment of chair of UK Research and Innovation

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  • Statement on changes to the research, higher education and innovation landscapes

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  • Consultation response: Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework

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  • Consultation response: Response to Higher Education Green Paper

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  • The Royal Society comments on the Nurse review of research councils

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