Post #018: Academic assessment in the REF era (part II)

Glasgow, April 30, 2018

Could the Research Excellence Framework (REF) be applied to other countries than the UK? If so, to what extent could it prove useful for higher education (HE) institutions that do not share the same priorities and challenges with the UK ones?

Theoretically, the REF can be a useful “model” for a number of countries where the HE sector has a strong contribution to innovation through research. However, in countries where the HE sector is less research-oriented, or in countries where the socioeconomic circumstances have not allowed for the development of this sector to the UK standards, the adoption of any framework like REF – fragmentarily or as it currently stands – would be completely inappropriate. Moreover, in my opinion, the REF cannot effectively address the need for a reliable case-by-case prioritization of academic research for HE institutions that have not yet achieved certain structural and functional milestones at both the administrative and the research level [1]. In cases like the latter, important prerequisites would need to be fulfilled before any REF-like system of assessment could be applied. For example, a reliable nation-wide assessment of HE institutions’ research “output”, “impact” and “environment” towards the allocation of funds [2] and the prioritization of research: (i) would require the adoption of a number of state-initiated reforms, and (ii) could only be a result of a long-term period of socioeconomic stability and research-enhancing initiatives; prerequisites that might take decades to achieve in many cases.

For the majority of the countries in which HE institutions do not operate under the standards and/or the socioeconomic environments that would allow for a reliable implementation of REF (or of an equivalent model), academic assessment might need to be more tailored, inclusive and intensified. I think that such institutions could particularly benefit from an international, standardised, affordable and accessible platform aiming at the assessment and monitoring of their research output in a manner that could be more informative towards the prioritisation of their research activities, based on their own needs and their ambition to meet international standards. Such a platform might prove invaluable for HE institutions where a consistent and frequent monitoring of their staff’s research output could allow for the timely adoption of critical administrative and research reforms, and could lead to a case-by-case addressing of their performance and development review (PDR) needs [3].


Notes: [1]: as “structural and functional milestones” I primarily refer to the development of infrastructure and the implementation of policies that allow HE institutions to meet international research capability and integrity standards; [2]: Zarros A. Post #017: Academic assessment in the REF era (part I). 2018; 31-Mar; [3]: the PDR is a very useful tool for the identification of the needs and the development of academic staff, but it is largely subjective, non-standardised, and rarely aligned to the institution’s priorities.

Citation: Zarros A. Post #018: Academic assessment in the REF era (part II). 2018; 30-Apr.