Perceptions of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework 2014: a media analysis

Murphy, Tony and Sage, Daniel (2015). Perceptions of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework 2014: a media analysis. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 36(6) pp. 603–615.



This paper explores perceptions of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) and its implications for individuals, institutions and wider academia through an analysis of media coverage of the REF over a 2-year period. In recent years, the importance attached to the REF has become an increasing focus of concern for academics and other commentators, particularly vis-à-vis issues such as staff morale, funding, ‘impact’, working practices and institutional inequalities. In examining media stories related to the REF, we uncover three key findings in terms of the main ways in which the REF is presented and perceived. First, media discussions of the REF are overwhelmingly negative, although this appears to have abated over time. Second, there are significant differences in the how the REF is discussed; this variation stems from characteristics such as the disciplinary background, institutional type and professional seniority of commentators. Third, although wide range of themes is discussed in relation to the REF, several tend to dominate media portrayals: these include ‘impact’, ‘funding’ and ‘marketisation’. The implications for the role and legitimacy of research assessment processes are discussed.

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