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

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