REF isn't blind to reality (1 of 2)

January 12, 2012

Miles Hewstone seems to think that the purpose of the research excellence framework is to produce a UK academic league table, whereas in fact it is an exercise in funding allocation and therefore arranged as such ("Sins of omission: REF should give full picture for the taxpayers' sake", 5 January).

While 1* research may be "nationally recognised in terms of originality, significance and rigour", it is only 3* and 4* research that attracts funding. Given this remit, Hewstone's recommendations would increase the workload of what is already a laborious exercise for no obvious purpose.

In addition, the outputs submitted by an institution to a particular subpanel will not necessarily map on to any one department or school. Furthermore, such outputs account for 65 per cent of any unit of assessment's resulting REF profile. The rest is associated with "environment and esteem" (15 per cent) and "impact" (20 per cent), with the number of impact statements required being directly related to the number of outputs submitted. So there would be consequences, particularly for "pockets of excellence", from submitting all staff regardless of output quality.

The REF must not be mistaken for a comprehensive assessment of the UK sector, which has more to offer than research, research, research. If we follow Hewstone's suggestions in terms of his preferred metaphor, they appear to hark back to the days when large numbers of people would take to the football field in an undisciplined manner. The modern rules are preferable as rather than allowing mob rule, they facilitate the fluidity and strategy of the beautiful game.

Nathan Emmerich, Queen's University Belfast

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