Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Modern Languages REF Results 'Skewed' by Subpanel Merger

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Modern Languages REF Results 'Skewed' by Subpanel Merger

Article excerpt

Subject's conflation with linguistics makes rankings 'meaningless', scholars claim. Jack Grove reports

Modern languages studies may have been harshly treated in the research excellence framework because it was assessed in the same subpanel as linguistics, academics have claimed.

With language departments already under pressure from declining student numbers, some scholars have complained that the structure of the panel used to judge their research has done little to help the subject area.

Under new arrangements adopted for the 2014 REF, modern languages research was included alongside linguistics in subpanel 28, rather than being assessed separately in seven smaller subject units, as in the 2008 research assessment exercise.

However, the results of a survey by the University Council of Modern Languages, which received responses from 34 universities, shows that about half of the 45 scholars who responded would like to see the current structure changed.

Their unhappiness may be prompted by concerns expressed in the survey that linguistics research was judged more positively than submissions from modern languages, which they claim has "skewed" results tables to benefit institutions focused on linguistics.

Conflating the two subject areas had led to a "systemic outcome whereby linguistics submissions occupy the top ranks, to the virtual exclusion of other submissions", said one academic quoted in the survey.

"The top-ranked institutions (based on a linguistics submission) are sometimes institutions where there is little or no provision for undertaking study or research in modern languages," which rendered rankings "meaningless or misleading", the respondent added.

Another scholar called for the reinstatement of a separate panel for linguistics as "it seemed to me that this skewed the results", while others called for the return of language-specific tables to show where departments did well. …

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