The results of the rating of universities, the Research Excellence Framework, came out a little before Christmas. Output from newer universities, and smaller units of submission, tend to suffer by comparison with the old established institutions. There are some obvious reasons why this happens. One is the credit given for the ‘research environment’; another is that a larger research team can offer several people a foothold as co-authors of joint work. However, the disparity of treatment between the best established institutions and others go beyond that. What seems to have happened is that the bigger the institution, and the more people submitted, the more likely it is that a higher proportion of their output will be rated as ‘world leading’. The REF has rediscovered the principle of homeopathy; the more dilute the effort, the stronger its impact.
There was a perceptive comment by Tiffany Jenkins in the Scotsman about some other flaws in the process – the imbalance between books and articles, the fiddle of importing prestigious outsiders, the lack of time to ascertain whether a paper will have an influence. I’ve commented before that the way the ratings are designed discounts much of the kind of work I’ve engaged in over the years. I’ve been looking at a review of my work in Serbian, which outlines the way that I’ve tried after Titmuss to establish an architecture for the study of social policy. As usual, that counts for nothing in the exercise.