The term is currently used in two related, but distinct senses. The first describes what is needed to apply for art school (in its broadest sense) and the second relates to materials submitted to Research Assessment exercises.

  1. The applicant to art school 

As in the advice given by the University of the Arts London (http://www.arts.ac.uk/study-at-ual/apply/portfolio-preparation/):

A portfolio is a collection of your work, or a ‘visual diary’, showing how your skills and ideas have developed over time.

Below is a list of what we’d recommend you include in your portfolio:

  • Examples of your research, development of your ideas and finished pieces
  • Your most recent work, even if it’s not finished
  • Your own independent work, for example, work completed at summer school or on a short course, photography and your own experimentation
  • Your sketchbooks – they’re a really good way to show us your research and development of ideas. They should include primary and secondary research, rough ideas and notes, descriptions and annotations. They should demonstrate a variety of media and experimentation
  • Your portfolio could include the following areas of work:
  • 3D and product design
  • Drawing and painting
  • Fashion and textile design
  • Film, video and animation
  • Graphic design and illustration
  • Interior and spatial design
  • Printmaking and digital prints
  • Performance
  • Photography
  • Printmaking and digital prints
  • Sculpture and installations
  • Written work including essays, journals, blogs and magazines.’’

2. The HE researcher and the REF 

While a REF portfolio may share some of the same characteristics of the applicant portfolio, its purpose in REF 2014 was much more specific, in its relation to research assessment:

A ‘portfolio’, as specified in c below, should only be included where the research output and ‘information about the research process and/or content’ [the 300 words], together, do not provide material sufficient to assess the output. Institutions should, therefore, submit only such evidence as they deem necessary to enable sub-panel members to properly assess a research output, within the following guidelines:

c. Portfolio: In cases where the research output is: ephemeral (for example, time-based, non-material, or no longer available); is one in a series of interconnected works (for example, performances or installations); or cannot fully represent its research dimensions through the evidence provided in a and b above, a portfolio in either digital or physical form may be submitted. This material must be sufficiently substantial to constitute evidence which will allow sub-panel members to access the research dimensions of the work. The expectation is that a portfolio is likely to include complementary evidence about the processes and outcomes of the work, for example DVDs, tapes (video and audio), photographs, sketchbooks, web-sites, catalogues, interviews or programme notes. The material should be presented with the sole purpose of assisting panel members to access fully the research dimensions of the work.

https://www.ref.ac.uk/2014/pubs/2012-01/    Part 2D: Main Panel D criteria, para 71

Three REF 2014 sub-panels gave general feedback about practice-related portfolios:

a. UOA 34: Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

  1. The sub-panel noted that in many cases the inclusion of portfolios to support and contextualise the research was essential, and in a number of instances, HEIs had systemically created portfolios that had clarity, relevance and depth. These portfolios provided concise and relevant information that enabled the panel to judge the research dimensions of the submitted work in terms of originality, significance and rigour. In the best examples these were presented as a digital presentation on a USB stick, clearly outlining the research question, the methodology employed and complementary evidence about the work itself. However, a significant proportion of portfolios were not helpful to the sub-panel. The two most typical shortcomings were: 1) the submission of evaluative commentary more concerned with the esteem, impact and status of the output than with research: i.e. a significant number of portfolios contained mainly review and publicity materials. 2) The submission of a high volume of disparate materials, without an index or clear organisational structure, so much so that the sub-panel was unable easily to discern what the relevance of the material was, or what its connection was to the research content of the output. In the worst cases, portfolios were as much an impediment as an aid to the understanding of the research content of the output.

b. UOA 35: Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

  1. As in 2008 the best outputs in PaR were distinguished by clearly articulated research objectives. In a number of instances, the presentation of practice needed no more than a well-turned 300 word statement to point up the research inquiry and its findings, since the concerns outlined were then amply apparent within the practice itself (which was made available for assessment by a variety of means including DVD or CD recordings, photographic materials, scripts and scores, databases, etc.). A significant proportion of projects, however, also offered insightful additional documentation of process and/or outcomes, which was at its best well-edited, or annotated, to further facilitate access to the research inquiry. Rigorous PaR work across UOA 35 explicitly articulated a research imperative, methods by which it was explored, and how these related to previous work on this topic by others. This approach often helped in making the case for the originality and significance of the findings and was often enhanced by analytical or reflective contextualising writing, though the inclusion of such portfolio materials did not necessarily raise the quality of the research enquiry of the practice itself. The most successful portfolios helped the assessors by providing a pathway through the material submitted so it was clear what the research contribution was and why specific pieces of evidence were provided. On occasion, however, research was documented via a huge collection of documents without sufficient guidance about what it is, and how it can be judged as research. Concision and selectivity in the presentation of portfolio materials was often key to the clarity of a project’s research imperatives.

c. UOA 36: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management

  1. Work was submitted, as expected and encouraged, in a diversity of formats. In some cases, and not only in ‘non-traditional’ forms, the research aspects of the work submitted were not self-evident nor explained, and on many occasions submitting institutions had not sufficiently acquainted themselves with the REF guidance defining research, and thus had often failed to take advantage of the opportunity to submit additional information clarifying the research basis of the submitted work. The sub-panel welcomed and rewarded research quality evident in practice-led research, but considered that additional information supplied was sometimes less comprehensive and focussed than was needed to make clear the research element in such work.

https://www.ref.ac.uk/2014/panels/paneloverviewreports/   Main Panel D

Guidance for REF 2021 is currently awaited, pending the publication of the draft criteria in July 2018.


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