What the REF review needs

December 24, 2015

It is good that Baron Stern of Brentford, a known sceptic of the research excellence framework, will chair a review of the exercise, but given the nature of these things I am doubtful of any positive outcome (“REF sceptic to lead review into research assessment”, 16 December).

The main research-intensive universities will fight tooth and nail to keep the REF more or less in its current form because they benefit from it and have learned to game it effectively, and it gives managers a useful cosh with which to discipline academics. The focus on the bureaucratic burden will compel a focus on cost savings and short cuts that always end up returning to the use of metrics, despite their repeated discreditation. And most importantly of all, this review of the REF is taking place completely independently of the discussions around the teaching excellence framework, despite the claim in the Green Paper that teaching has been sidelined by the focus on research.

If this claim is true, it is obvious that the REF and the TEF must be looked at in the round, with a view to genuinely balancing universities’ limited resources between these two dominant activities. Instead, the TEF proposes to intensify pressure around teaching without committing any additional resources, while a stand-alone REF review is highly unlikely to recommend any let-up in the pressures to produce new research. What is needed is a broad conversation about what universities are for, and what we want them to do, and then an allocation of time and resources that reflects that, not this piecemeal approach that simply loads ever more demands on academics, who are already working more than 50 hours a week on average.

Lee Jones
Via timeshighereducation.com


Send to

Letters should be sent to: THE.Letters@tesglobal.com

Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday. View terms and conditions.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Felipe Fernández-Armesto takes issue with a claim that the EU has been playing the sovereignty card in Brexit negotiations

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

John McEnroe arguing with umpire. Tennis

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman explain how to negotiate your annual performance and development review

Man throwing axes

UCU attacks plans to cut 171 posts, but university denies Brexit 'the reason'

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald