Loughborough denies sleep unit is trapped in nightmare scenario

But professor claims Sleep Research Centre has been sidelined by REF strategy. Paul Jump reports

June 28, 2012

The future of a high-profile sleep research unit remains uncertain after its parent university denied claims that it had fallen victim to the institution's research excellence framework strategy.

Jim Horne, emeritus professor of psychophysiology at Loughborough University and director of its Sleep Research Centre until his retirement last September, told Times Higher Education that the centre had been evicted from its purpose-built premises on the grounds that it did not fit in with Loughborough's strategy for the 2014 REF.

He said the work of the school, which was established around two decades ago, was globally renowned and had attracted plenty of media interest. It had also influenced policy, such as alterations to the Highway Code and the introduction of "tiredness can kill" road signs.

Professor Horne said the centre's problems began in 2009, when its home department was merged into the new School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences. He said the school wanted to concentrate on research that could be submitted to the REF panel on sport and exercise sciences, leisure and tourism (Panel 26). But the centre's research - which has recently focused on overweight lorry drivers and pilot fatigue - was deemed inappropriate.

He claimed that Loughborough had also indicated to the centre's two remaining staff that they were too few to warrant submission to the obvious panel: psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience (Panel 4). This also meant that the centre's work could not be submitted as an impact case study.

Professor Horne said that the institution had suggested that the centre be relocated to the Loughborough Design School. But he added that its research was also inappropriate for the REF panel in art and design (Panel 34) to which the rest of the school would submit.

He said that most of the centre's space had now been handed over to a group investigating eating disorders among athletes. The group had no use for the purpose-built bedrooms and driving simulator, which were built in 2005 with a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England's Science Research Investment Fund.

The bedrooms had been rendered unusable because they were being used as store rooms, he added.

In a statement, Loughborough insists that the centre's staff continue to have access to the purpose-built facility. It says that although no final decision has been taken on REF submissions, it is "anticipated" that the centre's work will be submitted to Panel 26 and Panel 34, as appropriate.

It says no decision has yet been taken on whether research on driver sleepiness would be "better placed" within the Design School's Transport Safety Research Centre, which has 35 members. But it points out that the Sleep Research Centre's Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2007 was won in collaboration with that group's predecessor.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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