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.
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