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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

How to improve the student experience -- ask the students themselves

Jenny Shaw , Student Experience Director at Unite Students, draws lessons on the higher education sector's efforts to improve the student experience from a week of HE news and views.

HEi-think: Why universities should support two year degrees

From this September, students will be able to opt to study an accelerated two year degree, as opposed to a traditional three year course. Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses why universities should consider the change in legislation and look to offer accelerated degrees.

HEi-think: A moment for REFlection

As the deadline passes for responses to the consultation on the next Research Excellence Framework, Kim Hackett, REF manager at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, outlines some of the key issues that have emerged so far.

 

The deadline has just passed for responses to the consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework (REF). We now face the exciting and daunting task of reading and analysing over 370 responses.

We’ve spent a good part of the past few months discussing the proposals with a wide range of people and organisations – thank you all for your willingness to engage and share your ideas.

We’ve already shared a lot of the feedback we’ve heard so far. We’ll now pause for breath as we focus on analysing the written responses. But before then, I’d like one further opportunity to take stock of where we are.

Hot topics

The proposals around submitting staff and outputs have undoubtedly received the lion’s share of attention. We’ve previously set out some of the issues raised around using HESA returns to identify research-active staff. As David Sweeney’s blog this week outlined, we have begun to consider other ways to identify these staff that will meet our intention for implementing an ‘all-in approach’.

Discussion has also been intently focused on non-portability of outputs. This is a knottier issue to untie and we have not heard overall consensus in responses to date. We are keen to identify the best way to implement this recommendation: a way which can address some of the concerns raised for ECR mobility, new units and staff moving in from outside higher education without introducing considerable burden through complexity.

Institutional impact case studies have been regarded as something of a mystery, with more questions than answers raised. What exactly do they look like? What are they for? Aren’t case studies pretty interdisciplinary already? I expect the written responses may follow this trend – which will leave us well-placed for setting up a pilot exercise to begin addressing some of these questions.

Equality and diversity measures in the REF have also been high on the discussion agenda. While there has been recognition of some of the burden of 2014 processes, there has also been some nervousness expressed about losing ground on embedding equality and diversity in institutions. It is clear that we will need carefully to explore the potential for disadvantage arising for submitting units with different staff profiles that are required to meet a set number of outputs. One suggestion here includes individual unit circumstances. These could allow a reduction in the number of outputs required as a result of an equality assessment.

What else?

With so much attention given to the issues outlined above, there’s been relatively limited discussion of the other issues raised in the consultation. This has masked to some degree the importance of these issues: we’re therefore looking forward to reading the written responses across the full range of questions.

For example, we’re looking for a firm basis from which to explore any changes to the unit of assessment structure with the relevant subject communities. There has also been a lot to think through in terms of impact. We’ve heard support for the proposal to maintain consistency with the 2014 process, but mixed feedback on some of the others. This includes broadening out the underpinning research to encompass research activity or a ‘body of work’, which while broadly welcomed has raised questions about the details of implementation.

I’m delighted by the level and quality of engagement with the proposals. This engagement is integral to the development of an exercise that will work across the range of disciplines and institution types in our diverse research landscape.

etiamos / 123RF
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