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Audit and data verification

All information provided by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in submissions to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) must be capable of verification. This page sets out the arrangements for audit and verification of submissions.

Aims and principles

The aim of the REF audit and data verification process is to give assurance that the data submitted are accurate and reliable. This will enable panels to make assessments based on accurate data, providing confidence in the outcomes of the exercise. The process also supports the principle of fairness by ensuring that all institutions’ submissions have been made on an equal basis in accordance with the criteria.

The approach to verifying submissions and the level of scrutiny will be proportionate to the scale of the exercise and the need to assure the accuracy of submitted data. We will initially verify proportionate samples of data submitted by each institution. Further requests to verify data will be targeted according to risk of inaccuracy. Where available, we will use existing independent sources of data to provide assurance about the accuracy of submitted data.

In authorising individuals to make submissions on their behalf, the head of institution remains accountable for the accuracy of submitted information. While we provide examples of the kinds of evidence that may be supplied by institutions for verification purposes, these examples are not exhaustive or prescriptive. Institutions should ensure they satisfy themselves of the accuracy of submitted information, and maintain accurate records to be able to verify the information.

Method of verification

The following verification procedures will be undertaken by the REF audit team based at HEFCE:

  • Sample-based verification: a sample of staff and impact case studies submitted by each HEI will be audited.
  • Data comparisons: the REF submission system will ensure the internal validity of submissions, and will validate the institution’s environment data (REF4) against data held by other agencies. After submissions have been made we will check for consistency across institutions’ submissions, and make comparisons with other relevant sources of data to identify potential data discrepancies that may result in targeted verification queries.
  • Panel instigated audit: The REF sub-panels can potentially raise queries to verify any aspect of a submission, or seek further information required for particular judgements.

Should verification checks highlight poor quality across a range of data submitted by an institution, we may undertake a targeted audit of the full range of that institution’s submissions.

The audit procedures will be carried out from December 2013 until summer 2014. 

Each HEI will designate two individuals to act as REF audit contacts. The REF audit team will raise all audit and verification requests with the audit contacts, who will be responsible for responding. All audit requests and responses will be through a a secure webmail system; accounts for this system will be set-up in autumn 2013.  

Outcomes

In the event that an item of submitted information cannot be verified, the REF team will make an adjustment to the submission, the item will be graded as ‘unclassified’, or the sub-panel will disregard that information in its assessment, as appropriate to the particular type of information. If an adjustment to the submission is being made, the REF audit team will inform the HEI's audit contacts. Further details of particular outcomes are provided in the above document.

Other than in the course of these verification procedures, the REF team will make changes to the submitted data only when outputs listed as ‘pending’ are not published during the publication period, or if HEIs discover inaccuracies in their submitted data after the submission deadline, but prior to the commencement of substantive discussions by the panels in January 2014.

In the event of persistent or serious discrepancies in the data contained within submissions, the REF Team will inform the relevant funding body of the nature and extent of the errors. The funding bodies reserve the right to impose proportionate sanctions if discrepancies are identified which could lead to a material impact on future grants or the outcome of the REF.