Is it worth coming forward?
Yes, we really hope so. The declaration process is designed to be a supportive one to ensure expectations on staff are appropriate by allowing them the opportunity to be heard and by having their own say in any equalities-related circumstances that may have affected their ability to conduct research or produce research outputs. This can then be reflected in the number of outputs they are expected to propose to the outputs pool, hopefully reducing some of the pressure they may feel to input at the ‘same level’ of those researchers without such circumstances. Whilst HR Business Partners are involved in the SCG, this process is not being used to identify ‘problematic’ staff and nothing you tell us will be fed into any internal HR procedure e.g. progress reviews or promotion. They have expertise in dealing with staff circumstances on a daily basis and they are well placed to provide suggestions or solutions in specific cases where an individual may request supports.
What will it mean for my School and the University?
For the University itself, it is also worth you coming forward so that we can have a better understanding of the issues that affect our research staff (even if in an anonymized way). It may also help reduce the pressure on units that may be under pressure to submit more outputs than it can reasonably manage, given the circumstances of staff within that unit, through a process to request a reduction in the number of outputs overall a unit should submit. If a unit reduction is requested, the unit must submit the names of those staff who have been given a reduction in the expected number of outputs to the (Research England) REF team, REF Equality and Diversity Panel and the Main Panel Chairs. This is for Research England's own equality and diversity reporting. At no point will REF2021 sub-panels be given your name. All data you provide will be destroyed after the REF2021 exercise and 2021 audit.
What are the ‘risks’?
Hopefully there are none. However, we recognize that some staff may be worried about declaring a circumstance that their employer is perhaps not aware of or that they feel might put them at a disadvantage at present and/or in the future. This should never be the case and the University is working hard to positively change the culture so that this does not happen. All key decision-makers in the University's REF process have undertaken training on equality and diversity, and are supportive of this process. If you are in any doubt, there are a number of staff networks and the Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equalities who should be able to put your concerns to rest and /or work with you to find a solution. We have consulted with staff networks to put this FAQ document together and to send out communications about the Code of Practice and staff circumstances process to raise awareness of the opportunity to have your individual circumstances considered. In the last exercise (REF2014), over 400 members of staff came forward to report individual circumstances and the process was found mostly positive. We have tried to learn lessons from the last exercise, but if you feel there could be improvements to how we support this process, let us know and we will take on board your feedback.
Who will know it’s me?
SCG will review your application and therefore have access to your name and any data your provide; if necessary, they will pass on your (anonymized) circumstances to EDAP, where a judgment needs to be made on a possible reduction in the expected number of outputs. If you are eligible to receive a reduction of outputs, the SCG will need to pass your name and the effect (i.e. what reduction of outputs was deemed appropriate) of these circumstances to your Head of School / Department / Institute or Head of Research Group in order for them to ensure the necessary support is provided. Your Head of School / Department / Institute or Head of Research Group does not need to know the specifics of your circumstances, only the agreed effects, and we will not share this with them without your permission. If you give us permission to, we can share this with them to enable discussion around your ongoing support needs and we can help set up and facilitate this conversation if you’d like us to. If you are worried about your name being passed on to a specific individual(s) (e.g. your Head of School), let the Staff Circumstances Group know this in advance or make this clear within your application. The SCG will work with you to enable you to submit a declaration without involving this individual(s) wherever possible and/or to seek additional support if a duty of care issue is raised.
What if I feel my School/College is placing undue pressure on me to apply for Staff Circumstances?
The REF2021 ‘Guidance on Submissions’ and the University’s Code of Practice is clear that any individual wishing to apply for staff circumstances must feel free to do so without feeling under pressure to do so. If you feel you are being put under pressure, then please contact email@example.com and we will work with you to address this. If you are unhappy with the University’s response, you can make a formal complaint to Research England regarding the University’s processes. Please consult the REF2021 website for details of this process (not yet available at the time these FAQs were released).
What’s the difference between proposed for REF and submitted to REF?
Internally we are normally asking eligible research staff to propose a minimum of 3 outputs that could be submitted to REF2021, even though not all of these will normally be submitted to REF2021. The institution has an internal review process to grade proposed outputs (unclassified to 4 star) to determine which it feels are the best quality outputs to be submitted to REF2021, to maximise the quality of the institution’s submission. Therefore, each REF-eligible member of staff is normally expected to propose a minimum of 3 outputs for internal review and they will eventually submit between 1-5 outputs to REF2021 as determined by internal reviewers, with the unit submitting 2.5 outputs (rounded up) on average for each full time member of REF-eligible staff.
Take this fictional example: if a unit has two REF-eligible researchers working full time it will need to submit 5 outputs (2 people x 2.5 outputs per staff member). If researcher X has 5 eligible four star outputs but researcher Y only has 1 three star output and 2 two star outputs, the unit may opt to submit 1 three star output from researcher Y (as they must submit at least one output for this researcher) and 4 four star outputs from researcher X (because these are higher quality than the two-star outputs of researcher Y). Obviously, this is a very simplified example and realistically we are dealing with hundreds of researchers, so you are asked to propose up to 5 outputs to aid the internal modelling of each unit’s submission, so that we can hopefully submit the best possible options from our collective portfolio. Good REF outcomes ultimately affect us all as future research funding and institutional reputation is affected by it, which is why we have a collaborative process.
What are the deadlines?
The (external) REF Submission deadline is in November 2020 . However, we need to compile all information internally first, so our internal deadlines will be much earlier than this as there is so much data that needs to be processed. The EDAP panel also only meet quarterly, so we have to get information to them in advance of these meetings. The external deadline for declaration of staff circumstances is 6th March 2020 therefore, if you have staff circumstances that you’d like to declare, we encourage you to do this as early on in the process as you can so that we can confirm what is required of you early on. Even though we have a main deadline in Spring 2020, we recognize that staff circumstances may arise or change right up to the assessment census period deadline on 31st July 2020 (e.g. due to illness late in the process), if so please email REF-Confidential@contacts.bham.ac.uk.
What if I have joined the University recently?
If you have been employed in academia throughout the REF period, the process for staff circumstances will still only account for how your ability to produce research has been affected over the REF period, regardless of which institution you were employed by. If you have already agreed circumstances at your previous institution, we will honour this, however we will require evidence of the agreement. We will also consider circumstances applicable before joining UoB, but not been raised at your previous institution. As mentioned previously, if you are an ECR, have had a career break or a secondment, then these are all applicable circumstances for output reductions.
When can you submit zero outputs?
Requests may be made for an individual researcher who has not been able to produce an eligible output where any of the following circumstances apply within the period 1 January 2014 to 31 July 2020:
- an overall period of 46 months or more absence from research during the assessment period, due to one of more of the circumstances set out in paragraphs *160 to 163 (such as an ECR who has only been employed as an eligible staff member for part of the assessment period)
- circumstances equivalent to 46 months or more absence from research, where circumstances set out in paragraph *160 apply (such as mental health issues, caring responsibility, long-term health conditions) or
- two or more qualifying periods of family-related leave, as defined in *Annex L.
[*Please see the REF2021 Guidance on Submissions document for Annex L and paragraphs 160 to 163: https://www.ref.ac.uk/media/1092/ref-2019_01-guidance-on-submissions.pdf
What is meant by ‘work productively’?
‘Work productively’ is a term used by Research England in their Guidance on Submissions to REF 2021. The university acknowledges that staff disclosing personal circumstances are productive members of our academic community, and strongly encourages staff to use the REF special circumstances process to get formal acknowledgement that they have not been able to produce as many outputs as (i) they would ordinarily be able to produce or (ii) as another similarly-situated member of staff who is not affected by these circumstances could produce.
How do I quantify the effect my special circumstances have had?
We acknowledge that it is not easy to quantify, in duration of months, the effect your circumstances have had on your ability to work productively. However, EDAP needs to have this information to be able to apply a formal reduction in output expectation. One way to estimate the effect on productivity in months is to estimate the number of outputs you would have been able to produce if you had not been affected by special circumstances, compare these to the number you have produced, and calculate the percentage.
For example, a scenario could be that an academic would normally produce 6 outputs, but has only been able to produce 3, the effect has been a 50% reduction in their productivity. If the special circumstances were over 3 years, the time would be 18 month (50%).