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People, Culture and Environment update January 2024

The REF Steering Group is pleased to announce an update on the development of approaches to the assessment of People, Culture and Environment (PCE) in the next REF exercise.

A project has now been commissioned with Technopolis and CRAC-Vitae in collaboration with a number of sector organisations, which will develop indicators to be used for the assessment of PCE. The project team will engage extensively with the research community to co-develop a shortlist of indicators to be used to evidence and support institutions’ PCE submissions as part of a structured questionnaire for REF submissions.

Given the decision to extend the timeframe of the REF to 2029, there is an opportunity for more in-depth testing of the indicators developed through the commissioned PCE indicators project. The REF Steering Group is therefore also announcing a pilot exercise which will involve drafting of example PCE submissions by a sample of higher education institutions (HEIs) for assessment by pilot panels in a selected number of Units of Assessment (UoAs).

The REF Steering Group is committed to the development of a robust set of indicators and a robust process for assessment of PCE within REF. We are grateful for the large volume of constructive feedback on PCE received through our engagement with the sector and will be incorporating feedback and suggestions into this programme of work. We are committed to continuing to work closely with the sector to develop the processes for assessment of PCE and to rigorously test the emerging assessment framework through the pilot exercise.

What is the timetable?

The pilot exercise and the PCE indicators project will work in parallel. The pilot exercise will draw on the indicators developed in the PCE indicators project and the two projects will collaborate on several points:

  • Consultation with the Pilot Panels to provide input on appropriate PCE indicators
  • Development of PCE indicators and draft templates for use in the pilot assessment
  • Development of draft guidance for HEIs making submissions to the pilot
  • Pilot panel training

The PCE indicators project team will consult with the sector on the developing indicators and continue to engage and seek feedback throughout the project.

An indicative timetable for both pieces of work is outlined below.

Alarm clock icon

This timetable has now changed, please see the updated timetable for the PCE programme.

  1. January 2024

    PCE Pilot

    • Launch of PCE pilot exercise

    PCE indicators project

    • Launch of PCE indicators project
  2. February 2024 / March 2024

    PCE Pilot

    • Pilot UoAs identified
    • Open applications for pilot HEIs
  3. April 2024

    PCE Pilot

    • Applications for pilot panels and secretaries

    PCE indicators project

    • Sector consultation
  4. May 2024 / June 2024

    PCE indicators project

    • Engagement workshops with PCE pilot panels
  5. June 2024 / August 2024

    PCE indicators project

    • Interim report on indicators and templates for submissions
  6. July 2024 to September 2024

    PCE Pilot

    • HEIs developing submissions
    • Templates used for submission shared with the sector

    PCE indicators project

    • Further sector consultation
  7. October 2024 / November 2024

    PCE Pilot

    • Submission deadline
  8. December 2024 to February 2025

    PCE Pilot

    • Pilot panels assessing submissions
  9. March 2025 to May 2025

    PCE Pilot

    • Sub-profile results provided to HEIs
    • Feedback from pilot panels
    • Feedback from pilot HEIs
  10. July 2025

    PCE Pilot

    • Publication of pilot report
    • Community engagement and feedback

    PCE indicators project

    • PCE indicators report published

How will the PCE indicators project engage with the research community?

The PCE indicators project will provide multiple opportunities for the sector to engage with the development of the PCE indicators. Desk-based research will draw on a variety of sources including Environment statements from REF 2021, feedback received through prior engagement and consultations with the sector, and other published reports. The initial consultation during spring 2024 will comprise in-person workshops in each of the four UK nations and a series of online thematic workshops. The project will also draw on the expertise of the PCE pilot panels once they are recruited. Once the draft indicators have been developed, and in parallel with the PCE pilot exercise, a second round of consultation with the sector will be conducted gathering feedback through workshops and an open consultation (survey). Sector engagement will include the views of stakeholders not directly involved in the PCE pilot exercise.

How will UoAs be selected for inclusion in the pilot?

The pilot exercise will focus on a sample of UoAs (we anticipate in the region of 8 UoAs) selected to provide a general insight into the assessment of PCE for similar subject areas and to highlight particular issues or special considerations that may exist for the assessment of PCE. These considerations are likely to include specialist institutions, practice-based research, or the production of non-traditional research outputs. The shortlist of UoAs to be included in the pilot will be developed in consultation with subject experts and will be confirmed in February.

How can HEIs be involved in the pilot?

Institutions will be invited in March 2024 to apply to participate in the pilot exercise, after we have announced which UoAs will be piloted. We anticipate selecting around 30 institutions to make submissions to the pilot exercise. A sample of participating institutions will be selected to ensure a good spread of institutions representing the sector.

Criteria for selection is likely to include: level of research intensity (e.g. incorporating institutions with a range of FTE in REF submissions); breadth or focus of research mission (e.g. incorporating HEIs making submissions to both a wide range and narrow focus of UoAs in previous REF exercises); geographical representation; other special considerations such as coverage of certain UoAs, institutions developing ‘pockets of excellence’, newness to REF.

In order to give the broadest possible opportunity for engagement with the pilot exercise, where possible we will select pilot panel members from institutions which are not included in the sample which will make submissions to the pilot.

Institutions that take part in the pilot will be expected to produce unit-level submissions for between 1 and 8 UoAs and also an institution-level submission. These submissions will be based on the indicators identified and developed templates emerging from the commissioned work on PCE indicators.

How can I serve on an assessment panel in the pilot?

Pilot panels will be comprised of academics, research professionals and others with appropriate expertise. Recruitment of pilot panels is anticipated to be in April 2024 and will be through an open process, to a set of tightly defined criteria. These criteria will include experience of previous REF assessments, experience of institutional REF submissions, and experience of PCE within the above areas. Where possible we will recruit panel members from HEIs which are not making submissions to the pilot. To conduct the pilot assessment we anticipate recruiting 8 sub-panels of around 20 panel members, operating at the UoA level and assessing the unit-level submissions, and an institution-level panel composed of the chairs and deputies from the unit-level panels with some additional expertise. Each panel will also need support from a panel secretary, and we anticipate inviting expertise from the sector to support this aspect of the assessment.


Both the PCE indicators project and the PCE pilot exercise will be overseen by the REF Steering Group. An advisory group will be recruited to provide expert advice on both projects.