REF ‘contextual data’ decision could enrich league tables

HESA announces publication date for data on number of researchers eligible for submission

December 3, 2013

The decision by the Higher Education Statistics Agency to publish “contextual data” on the research excellence framework on 18 December next year could allow league tables based on REF results to factor in the proportion of staff submitted.

Hesa announced earlier this year that it would publish data on the number of full-time equivalent researchers eligible for submission in each unit of assessment in each university “within a week” of the REF results.

Some observers were disappointed that the potential time lag between the two announcements would make it difficult for compilers of league tables, such as Times Higher Education, to include a weighting for the proportion of each university’s eligible staff they submitted to the exercise.

It is unclear whether there will actually be any time lag since the funding councils have not yet announced the precise date on which the REF results will be announced, beyond confirming that they will be in December 2014.

The lack of available contextual data in 2008 led to concerns that some universities had been able to submit with impunity only their very best researchers in order to maximise their position in league tables. That tactic diminishes the amount of quality-related funding universities receive, but provides a potential reputational boost.

Fears have been expressed that the withdrawal of QR funding for research rated 2* will prompt universities to be more selective than ever regarding who they submit to the 2014 exercise. However, this was not borne out in a survey of submission intentions carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England earlier this year.

In a statement Hesa says 18 December 2014 “represents the earliest point at which Hesa will be capable of publishing the data, given availability of the relevant source data and Official Statistics requirements to publish a statistical first release on staff information prior to the REF contextual data.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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