Universities urged to rule out submitting redundant staff to REF

Birkbeck is first institution to say it does not want to take credit for work of academics who left on bad terms

February 5, 2019
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UK universities are under pressure to rule out submitting work by academics who they have made redundant to the next research excellence framework, amid widespread opposition to a rule change allowing its inclusion.

Birkbeck, University of London became the first institution to indicate that, while it had no plans for compulsory redundancies, its code of conduct on submissions would seek to ensure that it took credit only for outputs produced by staff who had left on good terms.

Academics have called for other universities to take similar steps, as the rule change gave fresh impetus to calls for a boycott of the 2021 assessment exercise, and for the resignation of panel members who will evaluate submissions.

The UK’s funding bodies had originally proposed that submission of outputs by researchers who were subsequently made redundant should be prohibited for fear of creating “potential negative incentives”.

However, that decision was reversed in the final guidance on submissions, published on 31 January, because funders have no way of distinguishing between outputs produced by staff who left on good terms – for example, those classed as redundant after finishing a fellowship of more than two years – and those who did not. Identifying work solely from the former group would involve departments having to share “sensitive information”, the funders said.

A Birkbeck spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that the institution was sensitive to the concerns raised following the announcement.

The institution has “already made the decision that eligibility is to be decided by the university’s human resources department”, she said, avoiding the need for information on redundancy to be shared among departments. It was likely that Birkbeck would be able to pick out outputs from former staff who had left on good terms – an approach that the university intends to include in its code of conduct.

Martin Eve, professor of literature, technology and publishing at Birkbeck, said he was “very pleased [that Birkbeck] has started a process to codify a commitment to good institutional citizenship”.

“This remains far from straightforward, particularly with respect to those on fixed-term contracts, but I would encourage other institutions to begin their own goodwill efforts here to commit to good treatment of their academics,” said Professor Eve, speaking in a personal capacity.

One academic threatened with redundancy said that she would “rather have walked the plank” than allow her institution to keep her publications for submission in the REF.

But Simon Kerridge, director of research services at the University of Kent, described the rule change as “pragmatic”. “After all the intention is to reward the university where the research was done,” he said.

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Backlash against REF rule on redundancy

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Reader's comments (1)

This is a welcome move by Birkbeck but it does not really address the issue of universities appropriating the work of scholars even if they treated said scholars abysmally. In other words, not all academics who "left on bad terms" are actually made redundant. More often than not instead of being made formally redundant (with all the hassle that involves) academics are bullied and harassed by management (and usually HR) in order for them to voluntarily resign (and to move on to a different place if they are lucky). Consequently, the individual academic should decide whether she or he want the previous employer to use their work. If one left on good terms, one may assume that most academics would not object. I do not expect that to happen as it would actually provide academics with some degree of power which is clearly not in the interest of the managerial class that run universities in the UK.

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