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International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014
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Ends and means in national research quality assessment

Ian McNay, Professor Emeritus, Higher Education and Management, University of Greenwich. I.McNay@greenwich.ac.uk

Abstract

The presentation, and linked, foreshortened paper, will cover three issues within this title

1. The UK system has always had very brief objectives – ends. At first it was simply ‘to inform research funding’; later ‘to fund excellence wherever it is found’. The consultation for the 2014 exercise suggested ‘to change behaviour’ had been added, but details of what change/s were deemed desirable were scant. Increasing output and improving quality have never been overt ends. The first element will be an analysis of the recent review of the New Zealand equivalent, the PBRF, with a much wider consultation than the current UK exercise which, limited to one response per HEI will survey a skewed sample of stakeholders.

2. I hope to balance that with the second element, based on a small survey of those involved in preparing submissions or being included in such submissions, asking them to comment on their experience/s and to rate them against the ‘principle’ that the funding councils set for the process, which act as ‘ends’ for the process ‘means’:

a. clarity of documentation
b. consistency across academic areas
c. continuity between exercises as far as possible
d. credibility to those being assessed
e. efficiency in the use of public funds
f. neutrality over research approaches
g. parity across different forms of output
h. transparency

3. Finally, if the ends aimed at by those submitting are, in the words of former vice-chancellor Peter Knight, ‘fame and fortune’ is the REF the best means for many? A case study of my own UoA will suggest an alternative strategy based on cost-benefit analysis and the place of research in overall strategy.

The aim of the project, when fully completed, is to answer two questions:
Are the ends/objectives of assessment clear and agreed?
Are the means to achieve those ends fit for purpose and accepted as valid and reliable?

Initial results suggest not – both issues continue to be contentious.

Link to Full Paper (If submitted)

Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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