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June 04, 2008

You are the REF goes live

Have you worked out what the Research Excellence Framework means for you? Not easy, is it?

Even after the consultation by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the announcements from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, most people are still wondering “What do the numbers mean in my subject? What is HEFCE actually going to include? What happens when the quality indicator meets the data on funding and research students?”

You are the REF lets you play with the kind of model HEFCE might come up with, using the best data available now. There are three basic indicators, the three that HEFCE has said that the REF will be structured around: research funding, research student training and research publications (and their citation impact). Department by department, You are the REF lets you decide how those indicators should be combined into a single final score, and then see where your university comes in the league table. Then you can tweak your settings and see what the impact is. It’s an invitation to play with your destiny.

The kind of question you might ask yourself is, “Is funding a good indicator of who is cutting the mustard?” If so, you would give funding a high weighting compared with that of the other variables. But research funding comes from more than one source, and maybe you don’t value all those sources equally. Is a research council grant as good a measure of research quality, for your discipline, as money from industry? You can weight them differently.

You are the REF doesn’t cover all subjects; the data in some areas are coarse grained or almost absent. (That in itself is interesting: it tells you which subjects are going to be a challenge for HEFCE to map as well.)

Is this useful, or is it only fun? We think that the important point is to let a lot of people find out what makes sense for them. If you cannot manipulate the numbers yourself, it’s difficult to join the debate. And what is important for the UK research base is that the people who decide what happens to research funding should be the people who turn that money into knowledge.

The researchers must decide what the model should look like, not the bibliometricians. We would like to know which version of the model you prefer, and we might even let HEFCE know what you think when You are the REF...

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