University of Copenhagen ‘considered joining UK’s REF’

But rector of Denmark’s top university rejected the exercise owing to ‘workload and expense’

June 27, 2016
Bust of Japetus Steenstrup, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Source: iStock

The University of Copenhagen turned down the chance to join the UK’s research excellence framework (REF), instead creating its own system to evaluate its research performance.

Ralf Hemmingsen, rector of the Danish institution, said he considered joining the REF exercise to determine the university’s internal allocation of research funding after meeting with its leadership team two years ago, but decided against it owing to the “workload and expense” involved.

A report published last year estimated that UK universities spent a total of more than £230 million on the 2014 REF, equating to roughly £4,000 per researcher submitted to the framework.

“They offered that we could join, and be REFed as an institution. If we paid the money, then the University of Copenhagen could go through the cycle,” Professor Hemmingsen told Times Higher Education.

“We considered it but decided to implement a department-based model.”

He added that another reason for rejecting the REF was the university’s relatively low budget, adding that if he had “£200 million [of research funding] to distribute in the university, I would say, ‘OK, let’s do it’”.

“If we only have £10 million [of research funding], it will probably cost something like that to take the University of Copenhagen through the whole REF,” he said.

Professor Hemmingsen added: “If you go into that kind of process, you must be willing to and able to redistribute a reasonable amount of money. If you have the whole institution evaluated, you have to decide beforehand whether we would support the very good ones [departments] or whether we would try to save the very bad ones with extra money.

“I can understand the purpose of the REF if you have 50 universities like the UK and…they can move around quite a lot of money. I gather that some institutions have really moved from the middle to excellence during these three cycles.

“If you don’t have such a large system which is difficult to overview and a lot of money to distribute, it’s not worthwhile going into that detail.”

Professor Hemmingsen said the university’s new research evaluation process measures the performance of research groups, rather than individual researchers as is the case in the REF.

Each department at the university will be evaluated every six years by an external international panel, he added.

Each six-year cycle will cost Dkr10 million (£1 million), although around half of this is already spent on existing ad hoc reviews, and the cost is roughly 0.02 per cent of the university’s total science budget, according to the university.

“The review panel will give an estimate of the level of the research at present and suggestions of how to improve or change the focus of the science and so on,” said Professor Hemmingsen.

He added: “It’s not cheap but it’s not as expensive as the REF, which is very costly. We do this to develop, and we want to be able to document to the government how we are handling evaluation of research quality.”

And he continued: “Some institutions like Uppsala [University in Sweden] have chosen to have all departments evaluated in the same year, with a giant number of panels coming into every discipline. That’s another way of doing it. We’ve chosen a more ongoing model.”

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Print headline: Denmark’s leading university ‘considered joining the REF’

Reader's comments (1)

Touching that anyone should consider the REF anything other than a complicit charade, rewarding liars and schemers. The complicity of those who pretend it is fair, objective or legitimate is a vivid reminder of quite how readily UK academics abandon their principles when they smell gold.

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