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Under the cosh

University researchers, no longer public servants but workers in a global business world, are everywhere under the triple cosh to get research grants, demonstrate “impact” and write papers for research journals.

The Research Excellence Framework or REF – the term for university inspections held every four or five years – hides a multitude of research sins under the vicious pressure of competition between universities to get research council, EU, private foundation and government favour and funding, to produce “policy-based evidence”, and to publish the results in copious numbers of articles for research journals. 

The REF blocks out research conducted for the sake of finding out about or for rejecting the status quo and obliges researchers to write on whatever the journals will accept, all under the guise of other euphemistic terms for cut-throat behaviour such as “research impact”. 

Essentially, researchers have been reduced to the role of sales reps, fighting each other for new business and suffering the consequences of attracting too few customers. 

The following, from the Guardian (Academics Anonymous, 28 October 2016) encapsulates what happens to those academics who fall into the twin traps of principled research and meaningful writing:

“Research used to be about the pursuit of knowledge, now it’s driven by impact and returns….research grants have become more commercially minded investments with some expectation of immediate, low-risk return.”

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