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New system helps the University submit eligible staff to the REF

last modified Dec 13, 2019 04:05 PM
A new version of the REF Staff Information system was launched on 20 November, helping the REF team to ensure that eligible staff are submitted to the REF with correct and complete data. The project team adopted a unique approach to deliver the system on time under considerable pressure.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a big deal for universities. It assesses the quality of academic research, and the results affect institutions' league table rankings and determine how much research funding they're granted. So it's vitally important that the University's REF team is able to identify staff who are eligible for submission, and assign them to the correct Unit of Assessment (UoA) with all of their data present and correct. For this, they need reliable systems.

Improving the systems

On 20 November, the REF Staff Information project delivered a system to help the REF team with this unenviable task. It compares data from CHRIS with information collated by UoA Administrators to identify discrepancies between the two. Users can submit a change request for CHRIS directly to the REF team from the system when they spot something incorrect that impacts eligibility.

The system was a significant improvement upon the initial system released in June. Information is now broken into categories and is more concise, and it's now possible to make technical changes to the system across all 33 UoAs simultaneously rather than painstakingly changing them one at a time. The UI was also given a major overhaul. Users couldn't be happier.

Owen Roberson
"The system delivered is some of the best work I’ve seen out of UIS and it's been delivered in the teeth of extreme pressure."

Owen Roberson, Head of Research Information


The project had few resources: the team comprised three developers at UIS (Dean Johnson, Jie Lin and Martin Hunt); project manager Liam Boote; representatives from the Research Office, Agustina Martinez-Garcia and Emma Bonsall; and project sponsor Owen Roberson, Head of Research Information.

Faced with a challenging timeline, they adopted a unique approach to collaboration. Emma Bonsall moved temporarily from the Research Office to UIS, where she could work closely with the developers and answer queries instantly, rather than having the team rely on meetings for feedback and decisions. This method cleared all the potential roadblocks and made it possible to achieve the turnaround time and the high quality of the finished product.

Roll out and next steps

The team ran two onboarding sessions to familiarise users with the system, and Lynn Foot of UIS's Training Services team created a video tutorial and a user guide to give them handy reference material. As a result, only three user queries have been recorded in the 3 weeks since the system launched.

Amy Dolben
"I really appreciate the updates to the system – I'm sure it will make a huge difference to how I manage my staff lists! The change request buttons and the list of active change requests will make the process far more straightforward."

Amy Dolben, REF UoA Administrator

From now until March next year, the team will be working to address any feedback, improve reporting features, build relationships between REF systems and tidy the UI further. After that, they'll be shifting their focus towards auditing and getting the information out of the systems in a useful way.

Further information

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