Len Ole Schäfer from the University of Bamberg investigates the effects of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) on academia.
The paper explores the ways in which the REF affects research performance, inequality, diversity, academic freedom, the relationship between teaching and research, recruitment policies, research motivation, and power.
Mr Schäfer’s research is based on interviews with academics, policy advisers and research experts in the UK. He explains the effects of performance assessment by combining two very different theoretical approaches, termed ‘functional’ and ‘conflict-theoretical’. While the former supports the view that performance assessment improves the university system, the latter highlights the hierarchies of power that maintain inequality in performance assessment.
Taking into account both viewpoints, the paper shows that the introduction of impact as a measure of economic and social benefit, and the pressure exerted by the REF to yield ongoing research results within a certain time frame, limits academic freedom. The REF encourages a short-term approach in both research and academic recruitment, at the expense of more innovative and long-term goals. Mr Schäfer also argues that the REF increases inequality due to its rules and implementation practices, although he points out that measures are being taken to address this.
The paper concludes by suggesting that future studies investigate the impact of the REF on non-research active staff, and examine contexts such as institutional rank, discipline, the age and career position of academics, as well as drawing international comparisons.