Monday, 1 August 2011

REF: the Plot Thickens

With the publication of the panel assessment criteria last week, we now have a clearer idea of what the REF is going to look like. And it's not a level playing field for all the panels. Research Professional did a good run down of how it differs between each, and here it is, in summary:

The Thorny Issue of Citations

Remember when the REF was just a glimmer in David Sweeney's eye? When all the talk was of bibliometrics and light touch review? Hah! Well, as we've known for some time, you can forget all that. The REF looks pretty much like it's the RAE with Impact, and is peer review-centric. In fact, citations are only going to be allowed in a minority of the 36 sub-panels, as follows:
  • Panel A (Life Sciences): will allow citation data in all sub-panels;
  • Panel B (Physical Sciences): will only allow citation data in sub-panels 7 (earth and environmental sciences), 8 (chemistry), 9 (physical sciences) and 11 (computer science)
  • Panel C (Social Sciences): will only allow citation data in (some of) sub-panels 17 (geography, environmental studies and archaeology) and 18 (economics and econometrics). No panels will use journal impact factors.
  • Panel D (Humanities): no citation data allowed.

Put Out by Outputs

As well as variation on citations, there's a wide variety on what's deemed acceptable as assessable outputs. 'RePro' (as no-one but me calls Research Professional) gives the example of the physical sciences vs life sciences. Life sciences are strictly 'old skool', and you can only include 'edgy' outputs like textbooks, databases or abstracts “exceptionally”, 'where they embody original research'. The physical sciences, on the other hand, are much more 'new wave', and you can submit patents, book chapters, computer algorithms and software as evidence of research output, alongside peer-reviewed publications.

The Impact of Impact

Finally, it's our old friend Impact. Generally there's a broadbrush consensus on what impact is all about, and the definition is wide enough to allow for a fairly catholic understanding of it. However, there is a minor spat in the offing when it comes to the impact of teaching. Within Panel B, research impact can include actions that have an effect on teaching or students where they extend significantly beyond your institution. However Panel C will not accept such heresy, and you can't include examples of this in your submission to them.

So, interesting times ahead. Thanks to - ahem - 'RePro' for their overview of the HEFCE docs. You can have your say on them by responding to HEFCE's consultation before 5 October.

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