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Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.
The Westminster government should wake up to the full potential of higher education to help it meet its ‘levelling up’ goals, argues Professor Martin Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Staffordshire University.
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.
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.
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.
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