Rethink REF boycott, Exeter branch urges union

The University and College Union has been urged by some of its members to reconsider its policy of boycotting the research excellence framework.

January 19, 2012

The University of Exeter’s UCU branch passed a motion last week calling on the union to “reconsider the wisdom of withdrawing from participation in the REF, which we believe is counter to the interests of the vast majority of UCU members in research-active institutions”.

Any boycott of the REF - the new system for allocating about £1.6 billion in annual quality-related research funding, scheduled to begin in 2014 - could have an impact on the careers of the academics involved, as well as the level of research funding available for individual universities.

In the summer, delegates at the UCU higher education sector conference passed a motion to boycott the exercise.

The motion said that the REF would be “divisive” for staff and have an “injurious” effect on workloads, with job cuts for those deemed to be underperforming and therefore not entered into the process.

The UCU says it has about 50,000 academic members in higher education.

The union appears reluctant to discuss the boycott policy - which critics have said is unworkable in practical terms - and declined to comment on the Exeter motion when contacted by Times Higher Education.

Michael MacNeil, the UCU’s head of higher education, has written to branches advising them of a one-day consultation meeting to discuss the REF and the “implementation of UCU policy in relation to it”.

The meeting will be held on 3 February at the UCU’s headquarters in London.

He adds: “We believe that the REF will have a detrimental impact on the UK higher education system, including the demoralisation of staff, discriminatory practices and possibly the closure of departments.”

The Exeter motion says that staff should not be excluded en masse from the process: “the best way of avoiding any divisive consequences of the REF is to bring pressure on institutions to operate an inclusive, rather than exclusive, policy when conducting its census of staff outputs”.

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