Tuesday, 3 September 2013

How to establish a reputational yardstick

Posted by Heather Yoeli

As anyone who has been around any university research department recently will probably have realised, the general atmosphere within academic circles is, erm, interesting. The deadline for submissions towards the next REF is swiftly approaching, and preparations are escalating towards a level of intensity last seen amongst those who trusted Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on May 21 2011. I do hope that none of my colleagues will take offence at such an analogy. But the 2014 REF does remind me of Harold Camping in that its rules, like the reasoning behind his prophecies, appear to the novice eye as rather convoluted.

Harold Camping predicts the end of the world
Basically, the REF’s main website explains itself as follows;

The REF will be undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies. The exercise will be managed by the REF team based at HEFCE and overseen by the REF Steering Group, consisting of representatives of the four funding bodies.

The primary purpose of the REF is to produce assessment outcomes for each submission made by institutions:

· The funding bodies intend to use the assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their research funding to HEIs, with effect from 2015-16.

· The assessment provides accountability for public investment in research and produces evidence of the benefits of this investment.

· The assessment outcomes provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks.

The REF is a process of expert review.

Is it just me, or is that not entirely clear? I mean, I can sort of surmise that it’s something to do with telling universities how good their research is and might involve some cash prizes, but I’m not sure that the phrase ‘establish reputational yardsticks’ is one I’d use in everyday conversation. In the public health context, I think a reputational yardstick probably has something to do with the apparent REF buzzword of impact – that is, making our research relevant beyond academia and beneficial to the wellbeing of society and doing much of what we’re doing anyway with what we call knowledge exchange – but still, it’s a rather clumsy phrase. I would hate to trip over a reputational yardstick in the corridor.

My worry for the 2014 REF is that, as much is it will have achieved a great deal in encouraging universities and their researcher staff to work hard and to do their very best, its so-called impact may be limited by the way in which few people who are not themselves university researchers really understand enough about the REF itself. In my own completely unqualified opinion, the HEFCE might want to consider how to give the next REF a reputational yardstick as something just a little less impenetrably confusing.

No comments:

Post a Comment