The legacy of the Research Excellence Framework

Posted on October 3, 2013


The following article is not a surprise really, but it tells quite a lot about the REF exercise in its current form. I’ve copied this directly from the website ResearchProfessional (original article can be found here)


Job insecurity, stress and fewer researchers: is that the REF’s legacy?

With the deadline for REF submissions approaching, the survey of some 7,000 academics from 153 higher education institutions uncovers a picture of stress among academic staff amid concerns about post-REF redundancy if they don’t meet institutional expectations.

The survey, carried out by the University and College Union and published on 3 October, found that a further 850 respondents have been told they should expect reduced time and support for research if they fail to meet expectations. Women are more likely than men to have been told they face these and other measures, including performance reviews.

Also 40 per cent of respondents who requested ‘reduced outputs’ are unhappy with how this was handled. Seventeen per cent of staff identified as disabled and 10 per cent from minority backgrounds believe the selection process to have been discriminatory. And a quarter of respondents say institutions are using journal impact factors to decide whether outputs should be submitted.

The UCU has identified the 21 institutions where respondents say they have been told to expect a move to a teaching-focused contract in the event of REF underperformance. Around half of respondents from the universities of Leicester, East Anglia and Aberystwyth say they have been told by senior colleagues of such a move.

The same fate is expected by a third of respondents from the universities of Birmingham, Southampton and Swansea, and around a quarter of respondents from the universities of Cardiff, Kent, Newcastle, Strathclyde, Ulster and Warwick.

Around a third of respondents from the University of East Anglia and Queen’s University Belfast and a fifth of respondents from the universities of Aberystwyth and Leicester say they have been told to expect performance reviews if they do not meet their institution’s required standard in the REF.

The survey was carried out between May and June 2013. It was sent to 46,225 UCU members identified as academics or researchers with 7,000 responding. One hundred and forty-seven non-members also completed the survey. Around 22 per cent of respondents were professors, 30 per cent were lecturers, 24 per cent senior lecturers and 8 per cent readers.

The findings confirm what so many have predicted: that significant parts of the UK research landscape are being shaped to fit an exercise originally intended to measure and reward excellence. The REF instrument is not only the measure of what is good and what isn’t, it has become the determinant.

“The REF has cultivated a climate within a number of institutions whereby the only research viewed as of value is that able to deliver the necessary REF outputs,” concludes the survey carried out by the University and College Union. “For a majority of respondents, the REF remains a flawed process in terms of its impact on the sector and the nature of academic endeavour.”

Moreover, that so many researchers have been told to expect more teaching roles as a default option, shows how little some of today’s universities really value the teaching profession.


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