REF is expensive. Not so – previous iterations cost about 2-3 per cent of the total value of QR funding versus around 10-15 per cent for project grant funding. It feels expensive as it is concentrated into a relatively short period. If you really want to be “efficient” in the allocation of performance related research funding you would wind-up the research councils and allocate all UKRI’s funding via QR and REF.
Metrics provide a cheap alternative. Typically a political response to the perceived costs, but this only works if you move away from the unwritten principle of REF (and previous RAEs) that every discipline should be treated the same. It might be possible to use, say, normalised citation counts from some of the Panel A (medical and biological sciences) units of assessment, but simply not feasible for those in Panel D (humanities and creative and performing arts).
Academics hate REF. This is not to say that they love it, but to say that after every iteration of REF or RAE there is a reflection period that looks at alternative approaches. I recall vividly doing a project for then HEFCE as part of the Roberts Review in 2003 going around the country running design workshops for an alternative approach and always ending with the preferred model being a REF-like review – that is academic-led with peer review at its heart.
Research assessment is not needed. Unrealistic. Research is largely funded by taxpayers and as a sector we have a responsibility to demonstrate what we do with their hard earned cash. The idea that research should be exempt from any form of accountability is wrong and feeds an entitlement culture that further undermines the social contract that lies between universities and wider society.
The quality of [fill in blank] research has improved. Research England and every university will have spent last week drafting press releases claiming that UK research – and their university research – is “world leading” and has improved its performance since 2014. Be cautious in calibrating the results of REF against external benchmarks and over time. In the 2014 REF, despite claims that the UK had doubled “world-leading” (4*) research in Life Sciences and Medicine (Panel A), we showed with bibliometrics ‘only’ a 10-25 per cent improvement in top cited papers.