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/).

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

Research is at the core of universities’ multiple missions. Since university research is largely funded by public, sometimes competitively allocated money, it is evaluated regularly as a matter of accountability, often by the government. For example, in countries such as France or Brazil, all scholarly publications (that is, journal articles, books and book chapters produced by academics) are assessed periodically by government agencies specifically created for this purpose. These agencies measure research quality by utilising journal rankings and number of citations, often separated in different disciplines. Journal rankings can be created both by governmental bodies themselves, or they adopt lists that already exist in different disciplines. In the case of the latter, universities or associations can create ranking lists, such as the case of the Academic Journal Guide in the UK, or the Association of Professors of Business in German speaking countries (VHB). Research assessment exercises are a powerful tool to determine which universities/departments/individuals are considered to be “top quality”, and which institutions, research centres or programmes will receive more money from the government.

 

Research evaluation in the case of United Kingdom is unique. It adopts the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is developed and implemented by Research England, a research council overseen by the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI). Instead of relying largely on journal ranking lists or citation metrics, the REF uses an expert peer-review tool for assessing research strength at universities. More specifically, it assigns sub-committees (or “expert sub-panels”) across different disciplines that will evaluate all research outputs produced by academics. At the moment, universities in the UK are now surveying their research active staff and gathering their scholarly outputs to be submitted to the next REF exercise in July 2021, where expert sub-panels will assess the quality and impact of the research that is being produced across British universities.

 

The REF exercise is divided into 34 units of assessment (UoA), or disciplinary areas where universities can submit their research outputs. The adoption and existence of the REF have generated a substantial amount of criticism from academics. For instance, some emphasise how REF sub-panels have a narrow conception of research quality, while others believe the REF system discourages long-term projects such as books, which can affect how research is conducted across some areas, such as in humanities. In the case of Economics, some scholars have pointed out that research evaluation can affect how economists do research, or how some research topics receive more attention than others, but the impacts of REF on sub-disciplines in Economics is still underexplored.

 

It is also argued that because the REF is conducted at the subject level it does not enable individual evaluation with other metrics, particularly journal rankings and counts of publications in “top” journals, filling the void. In this project, we aim to analyse how the REF exercise affects the production of knowledge in macroeconomics, and if it creates a monoculture of ideas – if so, how does this process happen amongst economists in different career paths (e.g. if young scholars are more likely to have their careers negatively affected by the REF), as well as across different economics departments and higher education institutions. For that, we propose a mixed method study, which combines quantitative and qualitative data collected from a large-scale survey of academic economists, in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of macroeconomists, and publicly available data on higher education structures, policies and universities across the UK.

Results

Results will be published here when available.

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