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Professor Dianne Berry OBE, Chair of the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP)

Dr Steven Hill, Chair of the REF Steering Group

The purpose of this letter is to provide further clarification on adjustments within REF2021 to take account of the effects of equality-related circumstances on researchers’ productivity and to help institutions to put in place effective processes for supporting staff with such circumstances. The recent review of Codes of Practice by the Equality & Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP), as well as communications from a number of sector groups, has highlighted a certain level of misunderstanding in relation to these measures.

One of the key ways of supporting equality and diversity in REF2021 is to recognise the effect that equality-related circumstances can have on an individual researcher’s productivity.  The Funding Bodies therefore require institutions to document in their Codes of Practice how they will adjust any expectations they have about the contribution to be made to their potential pool of outputs for REF by a researcher with such circumstances.  A second important measure to support equality and diversity is to recognise the potential impact on the available output pool for units where there are high proportions of staff with circumstances.  Thus, institutions can submit a case for a reduction in the number of outputs required for a particular unit, where the size of the output pool has been disproportionately affected. 

As a first step, the REF guidance requires institutions to establish safe and supportive processes to enable staff to declare voluntarily their individual circumstances.  To help institutions to meet this requirement, a template declaration form, with accompanying background information and guidance for staff, is available on the REF website.  The recent review of Codes of Practice shows that most institutions are putting in place a centrally run process whereby staff will be sent this documentation (tailored to meet institutional needs) and asked – but not required – to complete and return the declaration form.  It is timely to remind institutions that all circumstances, including information about family-related leave and / or early career status, should be declared in the same way, and that there should be robust procedures in place to enable staff to declare their circumstances confidentially.

The next step is for the institution to recognise the effect of declared circumstances on a staff member’s ability to contribute to the output pool at the same rate as other staff, and adjust its expectations accordingly.  It is clear that some institutions have assumed that their expectations of staff who have declared circumstances only need adjusting if a request to remove the minimum of one requirement, or to reduce the total number of outputs required for a unit, is being made.  However, expectations should be reviewed whether or not any requests for reductions are submitted.  The Funding Bodies consider that institutions’ recognition of the impacts of circumstances on their staff is a core part of a research environment that promotes equality and diversity.  Thus, even where cases are not being submitted, institutions should still adjust any expectations they might have of their staff with circumstances, and provide appropriate support for them. 

Where institutions have provided the necessary information in their Codes of Practice, the review shows that agreement on the nature of support to be provided is typically taken forward through confidential discussions between staff with declared circumstances and their line managers, heads of unit, and / or HR.  Where more sensitive circumstances are declared, those in a position to provide support are given information only about the impact of circumstances on the individual’s productivity and not about the specific nature of the circumstances.   

The decoupling of staff and outputs in the current REF provides increased flexibility to institutions in building their portfolio of outputs for submission.  Therefore, in terms of making unit reduction requests, it is worth reminding institutions that the Funding Bodies do not expect cases to take account of staff circumstances to be made routinely.  Rather, cases are expected to be made where a unit has a high proportion of staff whose circumstances have affected their productivity over the assessment period, including in very small units or those where disciplinary norms make it likely that an individual will have generated a smaller number of outputs across the publication period. 

When submitting requests for a reduction, institutions will need to set out their rationale for the request. This should include information on how the circumstances affected the unit’s output pool, and why this was considered to be disproportionate, and include any relevant disciplinary factors, in accordance with the institution’s Code of Practice and REF guidance.

In order for EDAP, and the Funding Bodies, to understand better the full extent of circumstances, institutions will be required to submit a report, following the November 2020 submission deadline, reflecting on their experience of supporting staff with circumstances.  This should include a high-level breakdown of declared circumstances, and information about how unit reduction requests were made.  Further information on the content of the report, including a template, will be provided later in 2019.

We very much hope that you find the above information helpful in implementing these important measures to support equality and diversity as you prepare your REF submission.  Further information on the Funding Bodies’ approach to supporting Equality and Diversity through REF2021, including justification for the measures that have been put in place, can be found in Professor’s Berry’s open letter to the sector, published at the end of January 2019.