The Research Excellence Framework and The State of Higher Education Today

The 18th December saw the publication of the results, by institution, of the year-long assessment into the quality of academic research, better known as the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF 2014). To help address the challenge and issues around REF, SAGE arranged and hosted a panel debate bringing together key academics and policy makers.

Chaired by Jane Tinkler, Research Fellow, London School of Economics, the panel included the Rt Hon David Willetts MP, former University Minister, David Sweeney, Director Research, Innovation and Skill, HEFCE, Thomas Docherty, Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick and Derek Sayer, Professor of Cultural History, University of Lancaster.

The debate enticed passionate responses both from the panel and audience.  Both Derek Sayer and Thomas Doherty attacked the REF system, criticizing its lengthy and complex process, its lack of expertise needed to accurately assess each research discipline ultimately holding it up as a misplaced system to justify and legitimise funding cuts for research. Conversely David Sweeney and David Willetts both supported the system, with Willetts remarking that:

“There needed to be a defensible system of research assessment that did not simply involve an elite making judgements “, of which the REF was as Sweeney supported the best system available, one “designed by the academy with guidelines set by the Government, which is a pearl that cannot be given up.”

As SAGE’s Kiren Shoman outlined in her opening remarks and as the debate clearly illustrated, academics and University departments are currently faced with numerous challenges and changes as they are called to justify and demonstrate both their value for money and impact. Ahead of the results on the 18th, these issues have never been more importantly underscored and felt.

Since our inception in 1965, SAGE has passionately advocated for the importance of research, working closely with our scholarly community to ensure that research and debate is supported and receives the recognition it deserves. Holding open debates such as this goes in part to demonstrate our commitment to continuing this vein of advocacy, and as the scholarly community continues to face these challenges, SAGE will work closely with them to address these challenges together.

If you are interested in learning more about the panel debate, you can view it in its entirety here.

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