by Michael Wykes
In RAE 2008 some 1,851 individuals were returned to the English sub-panel by 87 Higher Education Institutions. Assuming that Universities’ REF 2014 submissions intentions were accurate last December (which is a big assumption!), there will be at least the same number of Category A staff, if not 3.6% more in 2014. Broadly speaking, therefore, for English this would generate about 190 Impact case studies on a 1 per 10 FTE basis and 87 Impact Templates – as a rough guide, although this is seriously misleading since the number of Case Studies would probably be nearer to 275 since 35 HEIs submitted fewer than 15 FTE in 2008, so would need 2 Impact Case Studies, 24 would need 3, 17 four, 7 five, 2 six, 1 eight and 1 ten.
So how long will panels actually take to discuss each case study and arrive at a grade? In their call for volunteers, HEFCE stated that sub-panels would meet about 8 times, staying overnight for several days. Users were told to anticipate just 20-40 ‘short’ case studies for meetings lasting 3-4 days. Taken at their word, and if each meeting for sub-panel members ran for 3 days, this could result in a total of about 24 days of meetings. For bigger panels, like English, there will obviously be more meetings for longer, and HEFCE have of course modelled the likely volume of work in order to calculate the number of meeting days required. Although it should be noted that the precise way in which the academic and user members on the panel will read and grade Impact Case studies is not yet confirmed.
But how long will they actually take, or perhaps how long would you think it was reasonable or indeed necessary to take to review a Case Study? And what about that all important but elusive Impact Template bearing in mind the fact that these three or four pages of text are worth the highest amount of funding per word in the entire assessment – equivalent to eight monographs for some departments? And surely all members of the panel – academic and user alike – should read this document?
You might reasonably allocate, say, 15 minutes say to review each case study, discuss its merits and agree on a grade? With 275 Case Studies and 87 Templates for English, that would take about 90 hours, or 12 days – nearly half of the allocated time for the meetings, but for only 20% of the overall funding, and before the panel has reviewed some 5,500 outputs.
The evidence would therefore suggest that whilst sub-panel members and users will of course do their homework before the meetings, they will probably have no more than 5 minutes to discuss and agree on these all important grades. Those 100-word summary sections had better be convincing.