Supporting the REF audit
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a major exercise for all UK Universities. While most of the effort involves the collection and evaluation of research outputs, there are also some tasks required to register which academics were working for us and when. To produce this report, we collect information from our HR & Finance systems and from our research publication records.
n our case, we have a slight problem in that our HR system is reaching the end of its support, and both our HR and Finance systems will be replaced next year. So we faced a potential situation in which the University’s future funding would depend on access to an IT system that will no longer exist.
This has led to some intricate planning of the implementation dates for the new systems, keeping the old ones in place until we can take all the information needed for the REF before the switchover to the new systems. If we hadn’t timed things this way, the work to extract and migrate data between the two systems and the REF report would have become hopelessly entangled.
There is one further complication, in that the REF requires an audit of our HR system after the submission date, to demonstrate that the information in our report is correct. The problem is that by the time the audit takes place, our HR application will be out of support, as will the database on which it depends, and the physical hardware on which it runs.
Fortunately, we have managed to arrange extended support and licencing to run the system in a read-only mode during the audit period. And because we’re still a little nervous about possible hardware failures, we’re going to take screenshots in advance of all the information that the audit might request, and then store those screenshots securely in case they are needed.
This is a just a small part of the overall work required for the REF, but it will be crucial, and it has taken quite a bit of negotiation and planning to put in place.