A critic of the research excellence framework (REF) who has asked whether it forces researchers to “adopt short-term horizons and a narrow focus” and chase “publication rather than following their own judgements” will lead a review into the exercise, the government has announced today.
Baron Stern of Brentford, president of the British Academy, will chair the review, set to report in the summer of 2016.
It will look at how to cut the “administrative burden” on academics and will also “strengthen the focus on excellence”, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The key questions the review will ask is whether the REF is too costly and burdensome, whether it could incorporate metric-based measures of assessment such as article citations, and what incentives it creates for individual researchers and institutions.
Last year, in a joint letter with Sir Paul Nurse, then the president of the Royal Society, he asked: “Have criteria of quality become too narrow and formulaic in some subjects? Are researchers feeling pressured to adopt short-term horizons and a narrow focus, and chasing publication rather than following their own judgements on which are the most fruitful avenues for research and most likely to yield major outcomes?”
He also questioned whether the impact element of the REF was “insufficiently deep and broad”. The letter added: “is the REF incentivisation of universities to hire stars in the closing months, like an imminent transfer deadline in the Premier League, really a way to build a long-term scholarly department?”
The BIS statement released today said that the review would look at how to “strengthen the focus on research excellence and impact while reducing administrative burden on the sector”.
It will also model a “simpler, lighter-touch method of research assessment that uses data and metrics more effectively while retaining the benefits of peer review”.
In a statement, Lord Stern said that “research assessment should not unwittingly introduce incentives for perverse behaviour, nor should it be overly burdensome. Excellence, properly defined, must remain the central basis for allocating support and funding for research.”
The Russell Group said in a statement: “While we are encouraged by Lord Stern’s intention to create a less ‘overly burdensome’ REF, we would be concerned if this resulted in any dilution of its rigour and international reputation.”
Dave Phoenix, chair of Million+ and vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, said it was "both surprising and disappointing" that the panel supporting the review "does not include any modern university. There are also no representatives from Wales, Northern Ireland or the funding councils and only one university from Scotland."
“This review must not undermine the long-standing principle that excellent research should be funded wherever it is found. Whilst we look forward to submitting evidence, in particular on the impact of research undertaken in modern universities, I hope the panel will take time to consider how it can proactively engage with the wider sector and other stakeholders," he said.