Quarter of academics believe REF will lead to redundancies

University staff reveal their concerns ahead of research excellence framework

December 16, 2014

On Thursday, the results of the 2014 research excellence framework will be published.

The exercise is designed to show the quality of research taking place at UK higher education institutions. To achieve this, some 36 disciplinary panels have read and graded 191,232 research outputs by more than 50,000 academic staff located in 154 higher education institutions.

With both funding and prestige hanging on the results, the implications for institutions and individual academics are significant. Indeed, according to more than 1,800 academics who have so far responded to the 2015 Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey (click here to take part), almost a quarter (23 per cent) believe the REF results could lead to redundancies in their department. Among the 448 academics who identify as working at Russell Group institutions, this figure increases to 25 per cent.

Earlier this year, the 2014 survey revealed a string of concerns about the ways in which the REF was impacting on university employees and their work. Below, we have published a selection of these comments.

You can let us know your thoughts about the process by tweeting us using the hashtag #MyREFstory.

Comments from this year’s Best University Workplace Survey 2014:

The bad…

  • “The bottom line is without REFable papers, grant income and excellent teaching scores you are gone and you need to be doing equally well on all three fronts.This takes all the flexibility away from department heads to manage a portfolio of staff where some bring in money, some are prolific and others are great at pastoral/teaching. Burnout, demotivation and lack of collegiality are the order of the day. Everyone is fearful for their jobs.”
  • “REF exclusion of a number of staff, myself included, has created a group of academic staff who are second-class citizens in the department. This leads to being assigned low-status, time-consuming admin, and to being treated disrespectfully by some (first-class citizen) colleagues.”
  • “The university will be looking to cut expenditure, probably after the REF is announced, and academics are most likely to face the axe.”
  • “Why study and research for years to get a PhD, publish books and work to establish a body of knowledge when you are all stuck in the same open-plan office space, working from a single desk while expected to teach, see students, submit multimillion-pound external research bids and write journal articles for the next REF? It does not work, the system is broken.”
  • “The university has clearly been appointing people with short-term REF goals in mind; many of these people feel that the university has not made a long-term commitment to them, and that there is no reason for them to commit to the university in the long term.”
  • “Personally, I am in a fairly strong position in the REF, have lots of research funding and popular with students, but I hate seeing the way others are treated. Staff are targeted for redundancy under the guise of ‘restructuring’; others get on the wrong side of someone on the Senior Management Team and…end up being sacked or otherwise pushed out.”
  • “The old ethos of the college – and the reasons it attracted students – have been crushed by a REF-driven drive to make the college into something that it is not and cannot become.”
  • “Everyone is stressed over the REF, and there is talk about lots of jobs being under threat if we don’t do well in the REF and get student numbers up.”
  • “Bad teaching and a ‘don’t care’ attitude is not punished by institutions that only care about income at the REF. This seems to have been a problem with all of the universities I have worked for.”
  • “The REF is a huge downer which results in lots of wasted energy and time. It removes the focus from the actual research to silly, irrelevant, pointless games.”
  • “The creation of permanent positions for those who have worked in jobs for many years is rare, a recent example is the creation of short-term lectureships to boost REF returns leaving those appointed to the positions wondering if they’ll still have a job after the REF.”
  • “The vice-chancellor and some other senior staff have approached REF, and assessment of staff, in a way which has caused considerable demoralisation. I think the present v-c has no real interest in good teaching or research, but is only interested in reputation, and management of media response.”
  • “Workload is absurdly unbalanced: leads to schisms within the university, between those who lead MSc modules with six students and have a 4* REF output, and those who are willing to teach the big first-year classes and turn out on a Saturday for open days. Expect this is true everywhere though.”
  • “I fear the REF has a key impact of encouraging universities to see staff as disposable – with new models bought shortly before the census date. It does little to encourage long-term thinking, support for the quality of research or for teaching.”

…and the not-so-bad

  • “Generally, my department has an incredibly healthy attitude towards research management and the REF. My research is well supported and I am not pressured to research areas that are ‘more likely’ to get into top ranked journals.”
  • “I love it [at my university]. The university is very relaxed and supportive and not beating up hard-working researchers over the REF.”

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