REF panel chair aims to deliver home truths from abroad

Sciences Po job will not weaken commitment to UK assessment, says politics chair. Paul Jump reports

March 28, 2013

The chair of the politics and international studies subpanel for the research excellence framework has insisted that being based abroad will have no bearing on his commitment to the task.

Colin Hay, professor of political analysis at the University of Sheffield, will become chair of government and comparative public policy at L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) in November.

Concerns have been expressed that this will make Professor Hay an “absentee landlord” with no personal stake in the REF outcome.

This was a particular bugbear given the widespread perception among academics in the field that the politics and international studies subpanel in the 2008 research assessment exercise had marked more harshly than other subpanels, calling into question the future of several apparently underperforming departments.

However, Professor Hay said his “ongoing and complete” commitment to the REF had never been a product of any personal stake in it.

“I am and will remain a tireless advocate of British…political science and international relations. I am honoured to chair the subpanel and will do so to the very best of my abilities, striving to ensure that all that we evaluate and assess is judged fairly and appropriately,” he said.

“It is out of my sense of duty to the…community that I sought to make my continuing REF role a condition of accepting any offer made to me [by Sciences Po].”

He also pointed out that he would continue to co-direct the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute and to supervise his current PhD students. Neither the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which oversees the REF, nor the relevant professional bodies had raised any objections, he added.

Graeme Rosenberg, REF manager at Hefce, confirmed that subpanel chairs were not required to be UK-based: “We have a number of people on the panels from overseas or with overseas experience or interests. This is a distinct advantage as the panels are, after all, judging work against international standards.”

Critics have also described as “game-playing” Professor Hay’s decision to remain at Sheffield until just after the REF census date at the end of October - meaning that Sheffield will be able to submit his research.

There was previous disquiet over Professor Hay’s move to Sheffield from the University of Birmingham after being appointed a subpanellist for the 2008 RAE, which gave Sheffield two representatives on the subpanel, including the chair.

One head of department at a Russell Group university, who did not want to be named, said that although Professor Hay was widely respected, the timing of his departure from Sheffield would be perceived as “another game being played by a university that has always done well in these exercises”.

But Justin Fisher, head of the School of Social Sciences at Brunel University, said it was fair for Sheffield to claim the credit for work that Professor Hay had carried out while there.

“It would be game-playing if he moved to another UK institution on the day before the census date,” Professor Fisher said. “What is he supposed to do? He has got a hugely prestigious position, has done the right thing by his institution and will be closer to London, where the panel will meet, than he is in Sheffield.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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