Some top performers in REF had big shift to ‘teaching’ roles

But overall data on reclassification of staff does not show obvious impact on results

六月 8, 2022
 Shepherd and dog herding sheep to illustrate Some top performers in REF had big shift to ‘teaching’ roles
Source: Alamy

A number of universities that saw a large shift towards academics being classified as teaching staff in the lead-up to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework also jumped up the institutional rankings for the exercise, a data analysis suggests.

Of the 10 universities that saw the biggest pre-REF percentage-point movement in the share of full-time academic staff classified as being “teaching-only”, six rose by 17 places or more in Times Higher Education’s overall ranking based on the grade point average of the results.

However, the other four institutions dropped down the ranking, and there appears to be no obvious pattern overall where institutions that radically reduced their share of staff in “research-only” or “teaching and research” roles before the REF were more successful.

Concerns were raised in the lead-up to the REF that universities might reclassify large numbers of academics as teaching staff because a change in the submission rules for 2021 meant that all staff with a “significant responsibility” for research should be entered.

According to Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) data for 2019-20, the last academic year before the REF census date for staff, about a third of institutions in the UK had at least a fifth of their full-time academics classified as teaching-only, about double the number of universities in 2015-16, the year before the new rules were announced.

Among those with the biggest percentage-point shift in the share of full-time staff classified as teaching-only from 2015-16 to 2019-20 were Staffordshire University (up 66 percentage points) and Nottingham Trent University (up 62 percentage points). Both rose more than 20 places in THE’s GPA ranking compared with 2014.

However, Staffordshire’s vice-chancellor Martin Jones said that the university did not have “teaching-only” contracts and that the Hesa data on staff roles reflected its decision to split academics between two “pathways”: “teaching and research” and “teaching, advanced scholarship and knowledge exchange”.

He said that the change was an example of what Research England’s executive chair David Sweeney had described as a welcome clarification of academics’ roles in the sector and that it had “led to a 27 per cent increase in the number of staff we submitted to the REF in 2021 compared to 2014”.

A Nottingham Trent spokeswoman said its Hesa data also reflected the introduction of new “academic career pathways” from 2017, some of which did not necessarily align with Hesa definitions.

“As a result, the teaching category includes the teaching and scholarship and teaching and practice career pathways. This accounts for the increase in those colleagues attributed to teaching.”

She said the university’s approach to identifying who was eligible for the REF was set out in its REF 2021 code of practice, approved by Research England, and explained that it had been able to double the number of staff submitted since 2014.

Among pre-92 institutions, the University of Hull went from 16 per cent of full-time academics classed as teaching-only in 2015-16 to 44 per cent in 2019-20. It rose 17 places in the GPA ranking.

Maggie McGowan, its director of research and innovation, said Hull had operated with a single academic contract for 15 years but the Hesa data reflected a new academic careers framework (ACF) at the institution that meant that many of its staff were classified as “teaching-only” when their roles were actually dedicated to other areas, such as knowledge exchange.

“Prior to the implementation of the ACF, all staff on the single academic contract were returned to Hesa as teaching and research, even if they did not have substantial responsibility for research,” she pointed out.



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Reader's comments (2)

If you think moving staff to teaching contracts is the only game in town you are more than naive!
My institution, meanwhile, just...didn't bother submitting all staff with significant responsibility for research. Didn't do them any good, though, as they slipped even further down the rankings from an already low position.