REF 2014: Picking through the results

REF 2014 Computing and Informatics Results, ordered by 4*/3* outputs and scaled by staff numbers
(Source: http://staff.city.ac.uk/~jwo/refviewer/). 

For the past two years, academics in UK universities have been preparing and then waiting for the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014), a quality audit of selected academic research undertaken during the period 2008-2013.  The results were finally published during the very early hours of 18 December, and there has been a flurry of activity as each university and department figures out how to interpret them in a way that reflects best on their performance.

At the OU, the Centre for Research in Computing was returned under the "Computer Science & Informatics" unit of assessment (UoA).  The research was produced by academics in the Department of Computing and Communications and the Knowledge Media Institute.  The REF 2014 panel's assessment was that 75% of our research outputs were 4* (world-leading) or 3* (internationally-excellent).  This is a good result, considering that our equivalent performance in the last assessment exercise, the RAE 2008, was to have just 70% of research outputs rated at 4*/3*.  As noted in the official announcement on the CRC website, the improvement in the OU's computing research outputs was accompanied by "an excellent research environment (100% rated world-leading or internationally-excellent), and a 30% larger submission (31 FTE, up from 24 in 2008)".  Despite this improved performance, other departments have done even better and as a result our position in the basic rankings has moved down to 31st (compared to joint 16th in 2008).

The chart above shows an alternative ranking based on 4*/3* outputs and scaled by staff numbers, and on this criteria OU Computing research moves into the top 20!  While this ranking is unlikely to get much acceptance, it does demonstrate the effect of different strategies for returning staff on the outcome. The chart was generated using the REF visualisation tool produced by Prof. Jo Wood from City University.  A more in depth analysis of the overall REF results was published by Research Fortnight (Hat tip to Anthony Finkelstein - @profserious - for sharing the link to this).

On a lighter note, Times Higher Education has set up a Twitter hashtag #REFrhymes, which has attracted a some funny contributions.  I particularly liked the following limerick:

Note: The opinions and conclusions in this article are entirely my own and do not represent the views of The Open University.  You can find complete coverage of the REF results from The Open University on the university website: http://www.open.ac.uk/research/main/.

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