The Research Excellence Framework: a rigged game

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.

One thought on “The Research Excellence Framework: a rigged game”

  1. indeed, it is somewhat funny – I may humbly refer to s similar experience of reading, with great surprise, about my “outstanding model building” exercise in the context of European Integration (in a German book titled Europaeische Integration Und Soziale Arbeit: Zu Den Auswirkungen Europaeischer Sozialpolitik in Deutschland Und Deutscher Sozialpolitik in Europa, authored by Peter Schaefer), not “awarded” anywhere.
    And I recently had been actually awarded for some “original and creative scientific achievement” – it had been from a Polish university, I received a “diploma” for it, and in the letter with which it had been sent, I had been told:
    “the monetary amount supplementing diplomas [the award is titled diploma] is given only to the Univesity employees”.
    I think it is remarkable in which way international engagement is somewhat abused – though, of course, I am grateful and mighty proud etc. …, and try to be as much optimist as I can. Finally, where do we end without optimism …? And can we really leave the field “to them” who stick to those ruthless rules?

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