Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


Among the many inefficiencies imposed by the hexennial ritual of centralised research evaluation in the UK is the requirement that some of the nation’s most esteemed academics (thankfully, I am not one of these) need to dial their research productivity down to nearly zero while they spend their waking hours — and some when they might otherwise be sleeping — reading and ranking hundreds of papers, and attending interminable meetings. And then, after the results are complete, the specialised skills they have developed during this sisyphean herculean task are of no use to anyone, other than helping their individual departments get a leg up on the next REF, of course. Wouldn’t it be great — and very British — to enable the researchers who have devoted so much time and effort to monetise the skills they have acquired for personal gain?

This is why I am proposing the creation of a public-private consortium (privately owned, but initially funded by the British taxpayers), to be called the REF Research Rating Agency (REFRRA). The idea is simple: One of the major outcomes of the REF is to induce British universities to hire leading researchers away from other British universities shortly before the REF census date, expecting that their 4* papers will pay their salaries for the next six years. They also hire researchers from outside the UK on 20% contracts to pop by occasionally and credit their  research output to their generous UK host. By these means, the University of Birmingham has had itself crowned the king of UK philosophy.

The problem is the amount of guesswork that goes into these hiring decisions. That is why we need the REFRRA, employing experienced former REF examiners, to provide researchers in the UK and worldwide with Audited REF Score Evaluations (ARSE). For a modest fee, academics can purchase a documented ARSE to list on their CV. This will ultimately lead, it is hoped to a complete automation of the appointments process, whereby academics can simply go to a web site of a university they would hope to work for, put in their ARSE and a few demographic details, and receive an immediate job offer or rejection, based on the calculation of whether their hiring would be a financial net gain or loss for the university.

When I told a colleague about this idea, she said that no one could trust ratings where the ones being rated are the agency’s paying customers. Too much conflict of interest. On further reflection we had a good laugh at her naïveté.

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