Global metrics experts attack Liverpool redundancy criteria

Authors of Leiden Manifesto and Hong Kong principles say plans to use grant income and citation scores to make redundancies is threat to responsible use of metrics around globe

February 26, 2021
Person very low on ground under a limbo to illustrate the University of Liverpool against making redundancies based on research grant income and citation impact scores.
Source: Alamy

International experts on the responsible use of research metrics have warned the University of Liverpool against making redundancies based on research grant income and citation impact scores.

The authors of the Leiden Manifesto and David Moher, lead author of the Hong Kong Principles, both of which encourage the research community to use metrics more responsibly, have written letters condemning Liverpool’s criteria for cutting 47 research jobs from its Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

The University and College Union has said that the university is planning to assess individual research grant income and citation impact scores, with the 47 academics deemed the worst performing in line for redundancy by May.

In a letter to Dame Janet Beer, Liverpool’s vice-chancellor, Professor Moher, an expert in scientific publishing at the University of Ottawa, calls on the university to reverse its decision to make staff redundant “via the inappropriate use of research metrics”.

Assessing academics in this way fails to recognise their collegial or “goodwill” contributions, such as teamwork or mentoring early career researchers, which are so important to academia, he says.  

The application of quantitative metrics in a mass redundancy exercise is “a major issue of concern”, Professor Moher continues. “The timing of this, at such a crucial time for debates in the academe, threatens to set back the responsible use of metrics in the sector,” he says.

“Inappropriate use of research metrics incentivises poor science, corner-cutting, and data massaging; while creating insecure, untrustworthy, and low-morale research cultures.”

In a letter of solidarity to Liverpool’s UCU branch, which has condemned the cuts, the authors of the Leiden Manifesto condemn the university’s use of metrics, because they “can be biased in various ways” and add that the function of a university is much more than acquiring citations and funding.

Ismael Rafols, Ludo Waltman, Sarah de Rijcke, and Paul Wouters, all at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University, say that the “proposal seriously contravenes the principles of ethical and responsible use of research metrics” as stated in the Leiden Manifesto but also the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (Dora), which Liverpool is signed up to.

Liverpool highlights both of these, and the Hong Kong Principles, on its website as useful resources on the responsible use of metrics. 

“We regard the application of quantitative metrics in a mass redundancy as a major threat for recent initiatives on responsible research metrics,” the Leiden authors say. It would also make Liverpool the first university in Europe to do so.

David Whyte, vice-president of Liverpool’s UCU, welcomed the letters of support. Liverpool’s plan was “unprecedented” and undermined the principles of team science, he said.

“To have the support of the world’s foremost experts in responsible metrics is important. The university has been told unequivocally that the international research community finds this attempt to make respected researchers unemployed in the middle of the pandemic both unethical and unacceptable,” he said.

More than 200 members of staff at Liverpool have also signed an open letter criticising the redundancy metrics.

A spokeswoman for the university said that the measures that have been proposed “are subject to collective consultation and are confidential within that process, but I can confirm they are based on transparent and measurable outputs, benchmarked against our Russell Group comparators and the relevant academic discipline. The proposed measures have been considered carefully, in line with relevant codes of practice related to the responsible use of research metrics.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (6)

The claim of transparency is clearly a lie, academics do not have access to the data used for their assessment, please challenge this account. T
One of the most inspiring, interesting, supportive, consistent and well-prepared lecturers in my UG degree published 2 things during my 4 years. I need say no more, Arthur Andersen principles are alive and well in LIverpool clearly -probably elsewhere. Business grew out of the idea of profit centred measurement years ago
This lecturer probably has long been made either redundant, has moved on or out, or was demoted to "teaching only" by the "supportive" employer.
What about some metrics on the management ??? ... the bloated overpaid managers and bloated bureaucracy and pay for senior bureaucrats in the UK Univesity system is a joke. Sacking the academics will only increase the imbalance . It is time to abolish the QAA, the OfS , the NSS as they are creating this bureaucratic nightmare that leads to all this needless bureaucracy.
“...are subject to collective consultation and are confidential within that process, but I can confirm they are based on transparent and measurable outputs, benchmarked against our Russell Group comparators and the relevant academic discipline. The proposed measures have been considered carefully, in line with relevant codes of practice related to the responsible use of research metrics.” This a a long-winded way of saying "f@ck off, we push it through anyway" ;)
Reading through the piece it is somewhat difficult to tell if “redundancy” is the issue or the manner in which it is (being) done. For the latter, there is so much ink spilt, the wrong way to go about redundancy, hardly any, the right way to. Perhaps the real challenge is knowing the right way(s) to do it. Basil jide fadipe

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