Audit culture costs

November 6, 2014

In response to the feature on the monitoring of academics (“Mass observation”, 23 October), the Association of Research Managers and Administrators was pleased to see that Frances Buck, co-founder of Researchfish, acknowledged the strategic importance that research-intensive universities place on their “own internal outcome-tracking systems”, having “already invested millions”.

ARMA agrees that the work that Research Councils UK has done in harmonising its requirements on what needs to be collected represents significant progress towards a more standardised and efficient collection process across all seven councils. However, ARMA suggests that the assertion that “the [Researchfish] system is unlikely to add to researchers’ reporting burden” is misguided.

At present there is no facility to upload data from internal systems into Researchfish, and there are wider practical concerns relating to the downloading of information into internal systems, which is complicated and inefficient.

With the advent of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s requirements for research excellence framework eligibility and open access, it is becoming necessary for researchers to enter publication details twice – once into an institutional system and once into Researchfish – which increases the administrative burden and the costs involved.

ARMA welcomes the proposal by RCUK to host a workshop in December to “explore the requirements and options for progress on interoperability”. We suggest, however, that not ensuring interoperability from the outset is an oversight, which must be remedied as a matter of high priority.

We are also keen to stress that the research reporting strategy should be devised and delivered by RCUK and that further discussion should take place as to the ethics of requiring individual institutions to subscribe to Researchfish to gain interoperability in order to provide evidence and outputs of RCUK-funded research.

Furthermore, to adequately resolve the outstanding issues, ARMA recommends that the implementation of the policy be delayed.

ARMA would be pleased to work with RCUK, Researchfish, Elsevier (Pure), Symplectic (Elements), Thomson Reuters (Converis), ePrints and others to develop and implement efficient and robust procedures for interoperability and thus halve the current reporting burden on our researchers.

Simon Kerridge
Director of research services, University of Kent, and chair of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators

 

The article on the vicissitudes of the surveillance of academics should be read by all university managers and policymakers, and they should be tested on the content afterwards.

It was the psychologist Michael Kirton who showed that humans can be broadly divided into “innovators” and “adapters”. The former are creative thinkers who thrive in conditions of (academic) freedom, while adapters (or “functionaries”) tend to work well within existing systems. In this model, progress depends far more on our innovators.

The dangers of a regime of low-trust hyper-surveillance and its accompanying “audit culture” practices should be clear: they generate stress and anxiety (both antithetical to learning and creativity), cultivate compliance rather than innovative thinking (cf. D. W. Winnicott), and spawn what David Harvey aptly calls “status-quo theory”, rather than the theory and research that help us to transcend our current limitations.

It is disheartening when large swathes of the academy show supine acquiescence to the alien, creativity-stultifying practices of the noxious surveillance culture. Little surprise, then, that increasing numbers of academics are exiting the conventional academy and seeking and creating exciting alternatives, such as the new Critical Institute and the Social Science Centre in Lincoln. Innovative students are warmly invited to join us.

Richard House, fellow, the Critical Institute, and former senior lecturer, universities of Roehampton (psychology) and Winchester (education studies)

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