Thousands of academics call for impact to be axed

Widespread support for REF changes as heads favour 20 per cent figure. Zoë Corbyn reports

December 3, 2009

More than 13,000 academics have signed a petition calling for plans to measure the impact of research in the forthcoming research excellence framework to be axed.

The signatories of the petition organised by the University and College Union include six Nobel laureates and about 2,500 professors. The petition reached this milestone as university heads signalled that impact should be worth 20 per cent in the REF, less than the weighting proposed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Under the current plans, 60 per cent of departments' scores would be based on outputs, 25 per cent on impact and 15 per cent on environment. The REF will replace the research assessment exercise as the means of allocating nearly £2 billion in annual quality-related research funding from 2014.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said the signatories were stating that "enough is enough".

Writing in Times Higher Education, she says: "We will submit every signature on our statement to Hefce. It is unthinkable that this proposal would be enacted without the academic community's support."

Meanwhile, speaking last week at the launch of a new Universities UK publication, Securing world-class research in UK universities: exploring the impact of block grant funding, Steve Smith, UUK's president, said that the impact weighting should be lowered to 20 per cent because the measure was "untried".

He told Times Higher Education that UUK members had debated the most appropriate figure within a 15-25 per cent range.

"In the end, most people thought 20 per cent would be about right," he said, adding that the consensus was that the environment score should be commensurately increased.

But he said that there were differences of opinion, with newer universities favouring a higher impact score. Their feeling was that a higher environment measure would favour older universities, he said.

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