Part 3: The process for identifying research independence
30. In particular the College will not take into account judgements around REF research independence in any future promotion, remuneration, career progression, extension of contract or performance management considerations.
31. In accordance with guidance issued by Research England, for the purposes of the REF, all staff on a teaching and research contract will be regarded as independent.
33. All other Research-only staff, will form a pool of potentially independent Research-only staff, comprised of:
a) Staff at the Research Associate Level and above within the Academic and Research Job Family
b) Staff on Clinical Academic Roles, who are not Research Assistants
34. The pool of potentially independent Research only staff will require a judgement to be made on their independence for the purposes of the REF. This judgement will be made by consideration of the following indicators of research independence:
a) Leading or acting as a Principal Investigator on a material externally funded grant\award on the REF census date or has done so at some point over the REF reporting period. Materiality will ordinarily be determined by the grant\award having a value of at least £50,000. This will be identified using College award data.
b) Holding an independently won, competitively awarded fellowship where research independence is a requirement. A list of Fellowships that the College considers to meet this requirement are included in Annex 4. Where an external funder has confirmed that a scheme indicates independence then this implies that such staff are eligible for the REF, however, it should be noted that this list is not exhaustive, and other fellowships not included on this list may also indicate research independence, for example industry-funded Fellowship schemes. The College considers that, generally, if a Fellowship scheme is funded by a body included in Annex 4, but the specific scheme is not, then the scheme would not signify research independence in the absence of any other indicators. Exceptions may however apply, if for example, a Fellowship scheme is funded by a body included in Annex 4, but the award process is devolved to the College. Holding a Fellowship not included on the list (for example Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowships funded by the European Commission) does not necessarily imply that a member of staff is not independent, if other indicators of independence apply.
c) Leading a research group or specialised research package.
d) For staff submitted to main panel C, being named as a Co-I on a material externally funded research grant\award at some point over the REF reporting period. Materiality will ordinarily be determined by the grant\award having a value of at least £50,000. This will be identified using College award data. For staff submitted to main panel C having significant input into the design, conduct and interpretation of research.
This process is illustrated diagrammatically in Annex 9.
35. Each leading Faculty committee will be responsible for initially reviewing their own staff and considering whether staff are independent and therefore eligible to be submitted to the REF, based on the criteria in paragraph 33. In making its decision, the leading Faculty committee will be informed by the independence indicators specified above.
36. The REF Strategy Group will adjudicate on the REF independence status of any staff where it is unclear from the criteria and will make the final decision on the REF research independence of all staff on research only grades.
37. The REF Equality Committee will have responsibility for ensuring that decisions around research independence are made with due regard to equality and diversity, including in relation to where staff have appealed the decision around their REF research independence.
Notification to affected staff
38. The Head of Department, or an appropriate staff member acting on their behalf, will communicate the decision around REF research independence to all Research-only staff within the pool of potential independence during autumn 2019, following which staff will be provided with an opportunity to appeal the decision. A second independence decision making process and related appeals process will run during autumn 2020, for those staff within the pool of potential independence and who were not captured during the autumn 2019 process (for example any new starters). All decisions around REF research independence will be finalised prior to the submission date of 31 March 2021 [previously 27 November 2020, then revised to take account of the effects of COVID-19] and communicated to affected staff. In these communications due regard will be given to providing the reassurance embodied in paragraphs 28-29 above.
39. The notification to staff will confirm that the interpretation of Research Independence within the REF process is specific to the REF, applied only to the REF and the College will not take into account judgements around REF research independence in any future promotion, remuneration, career progression, extension of contract or performance management considerations.
Appeals (Research Independence)
40. The provision of an appeals procedure is integral to the process for determining research independence. The details of the appeals process will be communicated to staff alongside the decision around their research independence.
a) The REF is a process in which judgements are made about the research independence of individual members of staff, based on a mix of objective and subjective criteria as set out in paragraph 33. Judgements6 are not based on the quality of any research outputs that the member of staff has authored throughout the REF reporting period.
b) Any grounds for appeal must focus on why the individual believes that he or she has, unjustly, judged to be an independent researcher, or not an independent researcher, for the purposes of the REF. It would thus be appropriate for an appeal to be made on the grounds of:
i) Unfair discrimination.
ii) Process (including if it is felt that procedure has not been followed).
iii) Previously unavailable evidence.
42. Disagreement with the decision alone would not be appropriate grounds for an appeal.
Equality Impact Assessment
44. In accordance with guidance provided by Research England, an Equality Impact Assessment will be undertaken to compare and analyse the protected characteristics (where data is available) of research-only staff identified as being independent compared to the pool of all research-only staff who are not Research independent.
45. The results of this analysis will be provided to the REF Equality Committee, who will then advise the REF Strategy Group as appropriate. Where there is a significant underrepresentation of staff with protected characteristics within the pool of staff identified as research independent for the REF, the potential reasons for this will be explored further. This may be caused by:
a) a bias within the REF procedures for determining the research independence of research- only staff. In this case, alternative procedures for determining REF research independence will be explored, potentially resulting in a re-categorisation of staff as independent or not.
b) an underrepresentation of research-only staff with protected characteristics, within the pool of research-only staff holding one or more of the markers for independence listed in paragraph 33. This could potentially indicate a more fundamental issue of restricted opportunity for support within the research environment within a UoA, which would be outside of the remit of the REF code of practice. Such cases will be referred to the EDI Strategy Group for further investigation and action.
46. Protected characteristics considered are those outlined in Annex 6, where this data is held by the College.