The Assessment of Academic Research in the UK: An Ethical Analysis

In Paul Smeyers & Marc Depaepe (eds.), Educational Research: Ethics, Social Justice, and Funding Dynamics. Springer Verlag. pp. 25-37 (2018)
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Abstract

We here analyse the ethical dimensions of the UK’s ‘Research Excellent Framework’, the latest version of an exercise which assesses the quality of university research in the UK every seven or so years. We find many of the common objections to this exercise unfounded, such as that it is excessively expensive by comparison with alternatives such as various metrics, or that it turns on the subjective judgement of the assessors. However there are grounds for concern about the crude language in which for example all relevant scholarship becomes called ‘research’, and publications become ‘outputs’. The focus on the impact of research, which was a new feature of the most recent exercise, is particularly problematic, creating as it does a tendency to what Aristotle called alazony, self-aggrandisement, on the part of academics. We conclude that the REF is a mixed good from an ethical point of view, and that more could be done to mitigate its more unfortunate features.

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