The latest proposal by the higher education funding councils is for 25% of the new Research Excellence Framework (REF) to be assessed according to 'economic and social impact'. As academics, researchers and higher education professionals we believe that it is counterproductive to make funding for the best research conditional on its perceived economic and social benefits.
The REF proposals are founded on a lack of understanding of how knowledge advances. It is often difficult to predict which research will create the greatest practical impact. History shows us that in many instances it is curiosity-driven research that has led to major scientific and cultural advances. If implemented, these proposals risk undermining support for basic research across all disciplines and may well lead to an academic brain drain to countries such as the United States that continue to value fundamental research.
Universities must continue to be spaces in which the spirit of adventure thrives and where researchers enjoy academic freedom to push back the boundaries of knowledge in their disciplines.
We, therefore, call on the UK funding councils to withdraw the current REF proposals and to work with academics and researchers on creating a funding regime which supports and fosters basic research in our universities and colleges rather than discourages it.
It is not only the UCU which expressing grave concerns about the REF; universities and societies that represent academic disciplines are also similarly concerned, and I will give examples of these in later posts. For the moment, the REF seems to be doing the impossible, namely to make us feel nostalgic for the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). At least the RAE was exactly that, a research assessment exercise. It did not set out to distort the meanings of the words it uses such as "impact" and "excellence".
The REF -- in its proposed form -- discriminates against theoretical work and imposes an artificial incentive to do work that has short-term economic impact. And you know what? I've got nothing against economic impact. But if a certain kind of research is able to make money, that should be its own reward; government-funded money-making is ridiculous. And just don't call it "research excellence", it's not the same thing.
Article in the Independent Against The Grain: 'I didn't become a scientist to help companies profit' by Philip Moriarty
See the comments that follow this article in the Guardian (the comments that get highly-recommended are correct)