Angst over research culture’s expanded role in REF is misplaced

Angst over research culture’s expanded role in REF is misplaced

Research culture has become a hot topic of discussion within the academic community, especially in relation to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF, a system used to assess the quality of research conducted in UK higher education institutions, has recently undergone changes that aim to include research culture as one of the criteria for evaluation. However, there has been some concern and angst over this expanded role of research culture in the REF.

What is research culture?

Research culture refers to the overall environment and practices within an academic institution that shape the conduct of research. It encompasses factors such as collaboration, integrity, inclusivity, and the support provided to researchers. The inclusion of research culture in the REF acknowledges the importance of fostering a healthy and conducive research environment.

The misplaced angst

While some academics have expressed concern that the inclusion of research culture in the REF may dilute the focus on research outputs and impact, this angst is largely misplaced. The expanded role of research culture does not imply a diminished focus on research quality, but rather recognizes that an institution’s research outputs are influenced by the broader culture within which they are produced.

Research culture plays a crucial role in shaping the research process and outcomes. A positive research culture promotes collaboration, interdisciplinary work, and the sharing of knowledge and resources. It fosters an environment where researchers can thrive, leading to higher quality research outputs and greater impact. By assessing research culture, the REF aims to encourage institutions to invest in creating an environment that supports and nurtures their researchers.

Benefits of including research culture in the REF

The inclusion of research culture in the REF brings several benefits to the academic community. Firstly, it incentivizes institutions to prioritize the development of a positive research culture, which ultimately benefits both researchers and the wider society. Secondly, it acknowledges the value of diverse research practices and methodologies, encouraging institutions to support interdisciplinary and innovative research.

Furthermore, assessing research culture can help identify areas where institutions may need to improve their support systems for researchers. This can lead to positive changes in policies and practices that enhance the overall research environment. By recognizing and rewarding institutions with a strong research culture, the REF can also serve as a benchmark for prospective students and researchers, helping them make informed decisions about where to pursue their academic careers.


The expanded role of research culture in the REF should not be a cause for angst or concern. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to foster a more inclusive, collaborative, and supportive research environment. By recognizing the importance of research culture, the REF can contribute to the overall improvement of research quality and impact in UK higher education institutions.

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