Monday, 27 February 2012

The REF and Edited Books

There was an interesting piece by Prof Andy Miah on the Guardian Higher Education Network blog last week, which looked at what academics should be doing at this late stage to bolster their outputs for the REF.

Prof Miah started by recognising two points: firstly, time is short, so there's a limit to what you can still publish; and secondly, there is wide variance between disciplines as to what is regarded as prestigious or good. Journal articles are regarded much more favourably in the STEM subjects, for instance, than they are in the Humanities, where there is more of a tradition of monographs.

The focus of his piece, however, was edited books, which he described as 'the biggest loser' in RAE2008, when very few were submitted. This was because editing does not equate to research, but also because there was some ambiguity over the peer review of book chapters, and the difficulty in getting book chapters cited. But these volumes are not without worth: they offer a useful way for early career researchers (ECRs) to be published, as the process is often more flexible and supportive.

Will this mean, therefore, that there is a certain amount of discrimination against ECRs in REF2014? On balance I think not: whilst this is the implication of Miah's argument, most ECRs worth their salt will have been able to publish up to 3 outputs within the time, without having to factor in a book chapter. From the preparatory REF meetings I've been part of it's certainly not been to big an issue. However, it is worth highlighting it: the more entrenched these assessment processes become, the more they will affect behaviour, and the more likely that a time will come when edited volumes are a thing of the past.

That's fine if that's what everyone wants, but we shouldn't stumble into it blindly. If the academic community and the publishing industry see the worth of edited books then they need to make sure that some allowance is made for them in the REF. Otherwise academics will continue to prioritise journals and monographs, and edited books will wither on the vine.

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