Three-D Issue 29: Chair’s report

REF madness reigns supreme once more. With REF2021 still three years away it is now the driving force behind all of our activities despite the fact that we still don’t know the fine details of how this particular audit will be run. Every drip drip of information from HEFCE is pawed over by research offices across the country and fed back to us with edicts and warnings.

For the last few months this MeCCSA has also been embroiled in REF mania as subject associations are required to play an ever-more involved role in recommending sub-panel chairs and nominating potential sub-panel members. The process began with confusion by placing film and screen studies in sub-panel 33 and separating it from sub-panel 34 where Media, Communication and Cultural Studies will sit (along with Library and Information Management). Peter Golding has written more about this on the following page. MeCCSA were quick to react to limit potential damage by initiating a joint statement with the British Association for Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) (reprinted in this issue) that received a formal response from HEFCE and Dinah Birch (Chair of Panel D) restating that film and screens studies research can be entered to either panel. The process of recommending potential Chairs of relevant sub-panels and nominating possible sub-panel members has been a time-intensive undertaking and done with rigour and fairness – a huge thank you goes out to all the Executive Committee members involved for all of their time and commitment to ensuring this is done properly.

With REF comes the inevitable game playing and HEIs are already scurrying around seeing if they can change people onto different contracts (either to include research or not) and penalise those whose research outputs they believe are not up to scratch. These systems and processes are often discriminatory, usually stress-inducing and rarely conducive to quality research. The more enlightened institutions have decoupled the REF from all considerations of promotion and progression. But we should expect more battles over teaching only contracts and increasing casualization of the profession as this REF rolls out. MeCCSA colleagues are particularly vulnerable because of the practice/theory mix and we will be making sure that the new Chairs of the Sub-panels are made well aware of our concerns.

MeCCSA have also been in continuing dialogue with the AHRC and ESRC over ensuring that all the subjects we cover are better represented in funding council schemes. So we were initially delighted to hear of the AHRC Creative Industries Cluster programme. On closer inspection, delight turned to outrage as it became clear what the real intentions of the call were – “… the innovations produced by our investment must have the potential to contribute to commercial outcomes. We are not able to fund purely theoretical research, critical studies or historical analysis”. We have written to the AHRC to note our objection to such an instrumental approach that excludes the funding of critical work detached from the immediate and pragmatic application of research to commercial outcome. It is hard to see this as anything but a betrayal of the purpose of the AHRC and a limitation on the range and value of research that will be likely to emerge from the programme. It feels as though this may be the tip of the iceberg of this particular battle.

This is my last Chair’s report for MeCCSA as I am stepping down from the Executive Committee after 12 years of service. A huge and heartfelt thank you goes out to all those on the Executive who have worked tirelessly for all of us. And to everyone else – please do consider putting yourself up for election next time round – we need all the help we can get!

Posted by Einar Thorsen