Academic Hunger Games

May 1, 2014

With hindsight, perhaps the legacy of the research excellence framework on all researchers has been distilled in the tribunal judgement “responsibility for allowing their own vanity and self-interest to draw them into an utterly destructive conflict which could yield no winner” (“No winner in ‘destructive conflict’ that led to researcher’s dismissal”, News, 17 April).

In the fictional Hunger Games, most competitors fall in the mutual blood-letting. I cannot imagine many scholars would volunteer to initiate a system such as the REF unless they were caught up in a national momentum for comparing each academic status against all others. While Rowan Williams (“No fooling about impact”, Opinion, 17 April) was primarily concerned with individual “intelligent citizens”, at least he realised that scholars need to be challenged to recognise the “quality of a different sort of skill from their own”.

Recently I gained fresh hope from a meeting at the Royal Society. The title of that event, which was organised by the Centre for Science and Policy, was “Evidence, networks and policy: translating new ideas into better outcomes”. A vital theme was making better policy through collaboration. Learning to collaborate with people with different skills is a good antidote to vanity and self-interest.

Rather than research policy mimicking the adolescent Hunger Games, perhaps out of the mouths of babes and sucklings comes advice for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, in a song that refers to a Nobel prize. I am amazed at how many children know the “Lego” song from The Lego Movie; “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team”.

Perhaps, instead of funding conflict, Hefce should fund cool connections?

Woody Caan
Editor, Journal of Public Mental Health

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