Research Excellence Framework (REF) Study Group

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Co - Investigator: Danielle Guizzo

Danielle Guizzo is senior lecturer in Economics at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). Danielle has expertise in the history and philosophy of political economy, heterodox economics, and economics education with three main research areas:

First, the role of economists as experts throughout the history of economics policy-making, as well as the consequences of their decisions in terms of power. Second, the history, definitions and scholarly communities of heterodox economics. Lastly, economics education and educational policy in the UK, exploring the teaching and pedagogy of economics in the post-crisis, as well as identifying the necessary policies to promote change.

Danielle is an  affiliate researcher at Autonomy (http://www.autonomyinstitute.org/), an Executive Board member of D-Econ (Diversifying and Decolonising Economics) (https://d-econ.org/), and a member of Reteaching Economics (http://reteacheconomics.org/).

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Researcher: James Walker

Professor James Walker is Head of International Business and Strategy. His overall research agenda is characterized by the application of empirical methods to solve real world problems and issues past and present. He has published in journals as diverse as Research Policy and the Journal of Economic History, examining the British and American retail managerial revolution, inferring behaviour from household budget datathe spatial competition in product markets and between firms in automobile marketsacademic performance and pay, varieties of capitalism, and attitudes to multinational enterprises.

James is an active member of the Centre for International Business History (CIBH) and the John H Dunning Centre for International Business

Project Summary

Despite substantial research on the REF in the sociology of academia, including its general impacts to academics (Martin and Whitley, 2010; Arnold et al., 2018), to date there is little work that has examined how the REF impacts upon sub-disciplines in economics. Our Rebuilding Macroeconomics study group aimed at understanding how the REF can affect macroeconomics, both the field and individual macroeconomists, as well as its potential connections to a persistent monoculture in the sub-discipline. By pursuing a multi-source, mixed-method study that combined quantitative data from a large-scale survey with academic economists, and qualitative data from in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of macroeconomists, we aimed at identifying:

 

1) In what ways the REF and the research audit culture in UK have entered and affected the incentives in macroeconomics research;

 

2) How macroeconomists (and economists in general) respond and behave strategically to the REF in research and career strategies.

 

The triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data reveals findings that show how the REF affects the multiple dimensions of macroeconomics. Namely, how it reinforces some of the structures and epistemic cultures that exist in the field (a publication culture, intellectual elitism, competitiveness and hierarchies) and provide distorted incentives for individual academics, particularly those in lower-ranked departments or early-career scholars (“pointless research” incentivised, immediatism and no appreciation for high-risk or interdisciplinary projects), increasing the need to be strategic and engage in “game-playing” to succeed.

Moving forward, the deficit in trust between the REF and its participants is one that ought to be altered. We recommend:

  • the need for better communication from REF sub-panels on what is deemed to be “excellent” research;

  • more diversity with regards to assessors, ideas and academics; encouraging different forms of research outputs;

  • linking teaching and research by ensuring these are assessed jointly;

  • changing the current funding structures that depend on REF results, reconsidering the current Quality-Related (QR) system and implementing a large block component; and

  • more effective regulation from the UKRI to verify how universities (and departments) are implementing the required REF norms and practices.

Results

Assessing the Impact of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) on UK Academic Macroeconomists

Danielle Guizzo, James T. Walker, Marina Della Giusta, and Rita Fontinha | April 28, 2021