Magazine article Times Higher Education

Why Throw in the Towel?

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Why Throw in the Towel?

Article excerpt

Lars Fischer on why losing round one in the REF impact fight means it's time to get off the ropes and hit back.

Among the many legitimate arguments put forward against the introduction of impact as a rubric in the research excellence framework, one of the foremost took issue with the fact that it categorically excluded what to many of us seems to be our most important impact by far - namely, the effect we have on our students.

Against this backdrop, attentive readers will have been struck by the fact that the guidance on submissions published last summer seemed to make a concession of sorts. It clarified that "other impacts within the higher education sector, including on teaching or students, are included where they extend significantly beyond the submitting HEI".

The criteria published by Panel D reinforced this clarification. The document lists, as possible examples of impact, "informing and influencing the form or the content of the education of any age group in any part of the world where they extend significantly beyond the submitting HEI", and "influencing the design and delivery of curriculum and syllabi in schools, other HEIs or other educational institutions where the impact extends significantly beyond the submitting HEI, for example through the widespread use of textbooks, primary sources or an IT resource in education".

This is obviously still a long way from any appropriate recognition of the impact we have on our own students, but it nevertheless seems better than nothing. Arguably, there is an avenue here that would allow us to smuggle at least some element of genuinely academic work through the impact gate.

Miserably as we may have lost the fight against impact in the first round, many of our colleagues on the sub-panels have evidently fought hard to provide us with a second opportunity to regain some of the lost ground.

This is surely a matter of crucial import. The impact agenda has made two streams of research funding, both quality-related and the funding available through the research councils, increasingly dependent on criteria of sexiness.

The sort of continuous and fundamental research of the rather less flashy kind that actually keeps disciplines alive thus becomes increasingly unfundable, putting entire disciplines at serious risk of collapse in the middle to long term. …

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