MeCCSA Response to REF2014, panel criteria and working methods

Summary of MeCCSA’s response to the REF2014 consultation on draft panel criteria and working methods.

Name : Prof. Peter Golding
Position : Hon. Sec.
Institution/organisation : Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association
Email : peter.golding@northumbria.ac.uk
Responding as : Academic association or learned society
Address : Ellison Place
Town : Newcastle upon Tyne
County : Tyne and Wear
Postcode : NE1 8ST
05/10/2011 10:27:00

Your responses

Generic questions

1a
Overall draft panel criteria and working methods
The generic and four main panel statements achieve an appropriate balance between consistency across the exercise and allowing for justifiable differences between the four main panels.

Agree

1b
Are there particular aspects of the criteria and working methods that should be more consistent across all the main panels? Are there differences between the disciplines that justify further differentiation between the main panel criteria? Where referring to particular main panels, please state which one(s).

No comment

2a
Individual staff circumstances
The proposals for determining the number of outputs that may be reduced without penalty, for staff with a range of individual circumstances, are appropriate (Part 1, Tables 2 and 3).

Disagree

2b
Please comment on these proposals. Respondents are also invited to comment specifically on:

  • whether Tables 2 and 3 are set at appropriate levels
  • the proposed options for taking account of pregnancy and maternity (Part 1, paragraph 62)
  • whether a consistent approach across the exercise is appropriate, or whether there are any specific differences in the nature of research that justify differences in the approach between UOAs or main panels.

If commenting in respect of particular panels or disciplines, please state which.

Our members have raised two issues that relate to individual circumstances:

1. A woman who has had fewer than 14 months of maternity leave would not normally be eligible for any reduction in the number of outputs in their REF submission. This is blatantly discriminatory in comparison to the rules that pertained in RAE 2008 and will create a severely disadvantageous position for any woman who has a child in the current REF cycle, since she will be expected to publish the same number of high-quality outputs regardless.

Though the intention may not be to discriminate against women, the effect of this provision will certainly be so, especially in Arts and Humanities subjects where work is most frequently single-authored and a monograph is often expected. In stark contrast to disciplines in which teamwork is the norm so that the absence of one member frequently does not prevent a project from moving forward, an absence of twelve months for the single researcher can lead to a real loss of momentum in research that goes beyond the period of maternity leave. Since maternity leave rarely goes beyond twelve months, but the effects clearly do, this provision is almost certain to impact negatively on the ability of women researchers to be returned to the REF.

The alternative “option” is for universities to decide to enter someone who has had a problematic pregnancy via “complex” rather than “clearly defined” circumstances. Thus, HEFCE have decided that an academic who has taken a period of maternity leave in the cycle may only reduce the number of published items that they must submit, from the usual four, if they have had complications arising from the pregnancy.

This option, by which institutions make their own case for why an individual has been submitted with less than four items, is equally inequitable, as there is no mechanism that will ensure consistent application of criteria for “complex” circumstances around pregnancy. Given the determination this time around to ensure a far greater degree of consistency across panels than pertained last time, this appears to be a significant weakness. Some members have noted that the very fact of having to make a ‘complex’ case around an individual will deter institutions from submitting that person – to avoid any possibility of the case being turned down. That points to the need for as many clear-cut guidelines as possible, with ‘complex’ cases being kept to a minimum

The practical outcome under either provision is that many women with three excellent items who have had leave will either be left out of the REF and or be entered with a fourth output that is weaker than the other three. This is clearly discriminatory, and we urge a rethink. A reduction of one publication/output per child seems to us the fairest solution.

2. Currently no account is taken of situations where a member of staff has taken on very high administrative burdens (eg Head of Department or other very heavy role) for a sustained period and this has affected their research outputs. This needs to be adjusted for as it is one of the key factors affecting research output in the longer-term.

Main panel D criteria and working methods

D3a
Main panel criteria and working methods
The main panel statement achieves an appropriate balance between consistency and allowing for discipline-based differences between the sub-panels.

Agree

D3b
Please comment on the balance between consistency and allowing for discipline-based differences between the sub-panels within this main panel. Please state the UOA(s) on which you are commenting.

We are satisfied that the discipline based differences have been taken account of in considering the sub-panel’s guidelines within MP D

D4a
Submissions and units of assessment (Section 1)
Do the UOA descriptor and boundary statements provide a clear and appropriate description of the disciplines covered by the UOAs? Please include any suggestions for refining the descriptors and state which UOA(s) you are commenting on.

Yes. The paragraph that emphasizes the overlap between sub-panels 35 and 36 and notes that cross-referral will take place where necessary is particularly helpful.

D4b
Please comment on the main panel’s criteria in relation to multiple submissions in its UOAs.

Our members feel that multiple institutional submissions to a UOA is vital to reflect fully the research activity of an institution and ensure that any one department/centre/group is not treated unfairly.

D5a
Assessment criteria: outputs (Section 2)
Overall, the main panel criteria relating to outputs are clear and appropriate.

Agree

D5b
Please comment on the criteria in Section 2, in particular on where further clarification is required or where refinements could be made.

We are satisfied with the criteria and guidelines within Panel D affecting our subject areas.

D6a
Assessment criteria: impact (Section 3)
Overall, the main panel’s criteria relating to impact are appropriate and helpful to institutions in preparing submissions.

Agree

D6b
Please comment on the criteria in Section 3, in particular on where further clarification is required or where refinements could be made.

Satisfactory

D7a
Assessment criteria: environment (Section 4)
Overall, the main panel criteria relating to environment are clear and appropriate.

Agree

D7b
Please comment on the criteria in Section 4, in particular on where further clarification is required or where refinements could be made.

Satisfactory

D8a
Working methods (Section 5)
Overall, the working methods of the main panel and its sub-panels are clear and appropriate.

Agree

D8b
Please comment on the working methods, in particular on where further clarification is required or where refinements could be made.

Satisfactory

Posted by Einar Thorsen