On being a bang-for-buck hero

Being still February, it is a bit early for even the most shameless shops and restaurants to begin their Christmas promotions. No such reticence for British academia, as, with the dust barely settled on REF2014, universities begin to plan for REF2020. As my own university joins in this trend, I stave off angst by meditating on an analysis presented in the immediate aftermath of the REF results by the WONKHE higher education think tank. They had the bright idea of dividing the amount of high quality work done by the amount of funding received, and identifying those institutions which produced the most output for the least input as the bang-for-buck heroes of UK research.

And guess what? “Let’s raise a minor toast”, Wonke wrote, “to the efficiency champion of REF2014: City University pulled out a 75.7% 4* +3* result from a 377 FTE submission, after getting just £37,000 per FTE submitted over a five year period in public research funding. Don’t they at least get a mice pie for that?”

heroes jpg
Modesty should prevent my mentioning that the submission which City’s library and information science group were involved in got a little bit ahead of even that, with 77% 3 / 4 start research. And with notably less research income per person. So yes, we can be heroes (just for five years).

And, yes, I’m glad to say that our Vice Chancellor took the hint and gave us mince pies at the REF debriefing. I hope that the more general long term points are taken: that you don’t, in every discipline, need large amounts of money to do good research and scholarship; and that research income is a means not an end. An understanding of that may it more difficult to get than a mince pie, but we can but try.

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