The UK Research Excellence Framework and the Transformation of Research Production

Sousa, Sofia Branco and Brennan, John L. (2014). The UK Research Excellence Framework and the Transformation of Research Production. In: Musselin, Christine and Teixera, Pedro N. eds. Reforming Higher Education. Higher Education Dynamics, 41. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 65–80.



The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is being introduced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England as the new system for assessing the quality of research in United Kingdom higher education institutions. It will replace the existing Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The aim of this chapter is to discuss the policy intentions of research evaluation systems of this sort and whether they are likely to lead to the transformation of processes of research production within higher education institutions or whether they are more likely to reinforce existing practices and traditions. We will adopt a theoretical perspective which draws upon the transformation of the modes of knowledge production, the emergence of new science regimes regarding reliable and post-academic science and the issue of epistemic cultures. We will discuss how discourses promoted by evaluation systems such as the REF which involve a growing focus on ‘assessment’, ‘quality’ and ‘impact’ are transforming (or not) research production in higher education institutions and whether the REF can be seen as a truly ‘new’ discourse or rather as a reinforcement of certain existing ones. We also attempt to draw some conclusions about the kinds of research likely to be linked and privileged by the REF and their implications for future research and knowledge production within higher education systems subject to such evaluations.

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