The REF and its consequences for academic jobseekers.

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One of the most important issues in Higher Education at the moment is the REF, the acronym by which the Research Excellence Framework is usually known.

What is the REF?

The REF is the means by which the British government will audit and monitor the research output of UK universities.  The aims and purposes of the REF are (according to HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England):

  • The funding bodies intend to use the assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their research funding to HEIs, with effect from 2015-16.
  • The assessment provides accountability for public investment in research and produces evidence of the benefits of this investment.
  • The assessment outcomes provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks.

For more information on the REF, please visit the HEFCE website here

What does it mean for academics working in permanent jobs in the UK?

Academics who wish to be considered as ‘research active’ will have to submit four pieces of published work for consideration by a subject-specific panel of peer reviewers. These pieces of work, along with a departmental submission about the research culture of the university will be used to judge the reputation of the department.

In choosing the pieces of published work to submit, those of the highest reputation possible should be selected, so single-authored books with an eminent international publisher will be considered more prestigious than co-authored books. Journals of international repute in your field will be considered more highly than a niche journal with few readers. A journal will be considered more prestigious than an edited collection.

Having an international reputation will be important so think about how you might demonstrate this, either by collaboration with overseas colleagues on particular projects, or by being published in journals or by publishers with a global reach, or by being invited to participate in conferences or workshops with a global perspective.

Other factors also have to be considered. ‘Impact’ will be incredibly important. This means academics must consider how their work encourages engagement between the academic world and outside agencies, either in the public or private sectors.  Not every scholar will have to demonstrate ‘impact’ but every department will have to show that it has a number of scholars whose work is ‘impactful’.

What does it mean for academics/postgraduates looking for a job?

Jobseekers will consider the same factors as academics already in post. Any department hiring between now and the closing date for submissions in November 2013 will be looking to enhance their reputation for the REF. The more easily you can tailor your application to show that you have considered this, the more chance you have of being interviewed. Be explicit in your application; if you have publications that will be ready by the deadline date, say so.

It is important to emphasise in your application the aspects of academic life that the particular institution is looking for. Don’t become obsessed with the REF and its needs and forget to examine what the particular employer is after. For example, many departments want to ensure that the quality of the teaching remains very high in order to continue to attract students once the higher fees regime comes in. So, research will not be the only important factor; being a good teacher and being aware of other issues concerning Higher Education, such as fees, will also play a part.

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