REF probably means little or nothing to scientists around the world, unless they work in Britain. This is the final week, prior to the preliminary announcements of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) “assessment outcomes”, which “will inform the selective allocation of research funding” and “provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks“. Are you REFable or a REFugee? asks THE editor John Gill. He would probably classify me to the latter category 🙂 Yet, Lord Stern of Brent, President of the British Academy and Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society have raised questions:
Has what was designed as an instrument of quality assessment become an institution that risks stifling the excellence it was intended to foster?
Have well-intentioned but imperfectly designed frameworks led to wasteful and distorting behaviours, by academics and their universities?
When John Allen and I asked very similar questions, we lost our positions at Queen Mary University of London. Stefan Grimm’s death and his post-mortem message to his colleagues have summarised the present state of affairs in the UK academy. “The strongest reason for retiring is that I no longer feel that I work in a university” says an anonymous academic, “today, of course, universities are businesses, with decisions increasingly being made on commercial grounds”. It doesn’t seem to matter that this way of going about is stupid.
“One of the grand rituals of British academic life is about to reach its climax.” Thus, starts his commentary Derek Sayer (resonating with the title of this post). The exclusion of several of his colleagues in history at Lancaster University led Derek Sayer to take the unusual step of appealing against his inclusion in the REF. His appeal was not upheld.
I have posted twice the poem “Addition” written in 1897 by Κ. Καβάφης as a cultural contribution below Times Higher Education articles describing the dire consequences for those who do not meet the REF-inspired metrics (or of madness if you prefer). This is why I fail to resonate with proposals that wish to turn the academy into a metric-driven machine, in my view it will lead to the Golden Boys thriving like a zombie fungus. I would rather agree with Curt Rice:
What follows is my answer to Cavafis, Stefan Grimm, those anonymous colleagues who share their suffering anonymously and, with apologies that the last recipient is not a person, to REF
I am happy for the time to think and read and for the lab and the students with whom I work gracias México, gracias Cinvestav. I am unhappy for having suffered a lung embolism because I could not understand how managers corrupt and for having to rely on electronic communication with my - now many ex - Queen Mary colleagues. "But of this have I the joy to be aware that in their immense addition — their detestable addition with the myriad rows of figures, I am not recorded there of the many units one. Of me there is no recognition in their numeration." Alas, this joy will not suffice my ambition. Wake up Kemal, this world needs you to change.