BNA submits response to research assessment review

6th May 2022

Assessing science researchToday the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) submitted its response to a review of the system for assessing research at UK universities, which is considering what might replace the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the future. 

Background to the review

In May 2021, the UK funding councils jointly announced the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) in response to a request from the UK and devolved governments.

FRAP has been tasked with addressing some of the criticisms that have developed from past iterations of the REF. It is considering how to encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the higher education sector. This will include reviewing how the recent REF performed.

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Boosting credibility in research assessment

There is strong evidence highlighting challenges around reproducibility and replicability of research, which need to be addressed in order to strengthen the credibility of exercises accessing research quality.

To provide a fully credible assessment requires credibility to be embedded into the design, methodology, and reporting stages of research.

Open access had an increased place in the last REF, but simply making the information freely available does little to enable reproducibility if outputs are not curated in a way that enable their reuse.

At the same time, methods to improve credibility demand extra time for researchers, and it's important that the changes that FRAP will recommend should avoid adding to the burden on individuals.

For this reason, we have recommended that institutions are incentivised to demonstrate how they are helping to provide support for managing and curating the research outputs produced.

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Adding the voice of neuroscientists

Last month, we consulted our members for their thoughts on the UK system for research assessment.

Around 100 neuroscientists took part in our survey, and we want to take this opportunity to thank each one for sharing their views on what a future system should prioritise. We have included the key results in our response to the FRAP consultation, and the data is available via the Open Science Framework

Respondents to our survey considered the impact of research assessment on research culture most important for FRAP to consider, in particular the impact on research integrity, research reproducibility and open research. 85% of respondents also supported recognising and rewarding efforts to make data and materials from research openly available as a component demonstrating research excellence. There was also strong support (89% of respondents) for maintaining a combination of peer review informed by metrics for research assessment, rather than moving to a metrics-only model.

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What the BNA is doing 

As part of our policy work on improving the UK research environment, we want to see a fairer research assessment system – one that recognises the value of responsible research practices, full and open reporting, and efforts to ensure reproducibility of research. One of the key commitments in our Credibility in Neuroscience manifesto is to ensure that the influences which drive research also drive the most credible research. 

We are also doing our part to help drive the change towards a more positive research culture - from our Credibility in Neuroscience resources, to in practice encouraging credible research practices such as preregistration and Registered Reports.

If you are interested in attending an event to help boost your knowledge and skills in this area, we encourage you to apply for a credibility bursary

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Next steps 

This consultation, which has focused on the high-level design of a future assessment system, may not be the final stage where the research sector can have its say. FRAP is expected to announce the results of this later this year, at which point it is likely that they will seek further input into the more detailed design elements of the next assessment exercise. This may also be informed by recommendations from the Parliamentary inquiry on research reproducibility, which should report within the same timeframe. 

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