KBS Research Newsletter – Spring 2016 – Round up

By Michael Reilly

The next REF – a different ball game?

You may have noticed that Lord Nicholas Stern who produced an influential report on the Economics of Climate Change for HM Treasury back in 2006 has been brought in by the UK Govt to take a fresh look at the next Research Excellence Framework. Some might say that the REF is an even more ‘wicked’ problem than anthropogenic climate change and so good luck with that. HEFCE itself was consulting on proposals for change prior to this latest review and maybe one wouldn’t expect their own insights to be recklessly cast aside. For example, suggestions for a new 5* rating and an increased weighting for impact of 25% would be expected to surface again. Based on the responses to Lord Stern’s consultation so far, agreement has seemingly broken out over decoupling individual and institutional performance by anonymising outputs and removing discretion over submitted staff. Some learned societies have also suggested that gaming might be ameliorated using algorithms or appropriate sampling methods. More importantly it might reduce the steadily increasing costs associated with national research assessment. Last year I spoke to a HEFCE insider who suspected a mini-REF, using metrics, before the end of the next cycle would be trialled. My view on this is follow the money – or rather the lack of it. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javed, will want to cut costs. That means a leaner technology-enhanced REF may come to HE quicker than to football, which has its own quotient of baffling rules and questionable decisions.

Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) Research Conference 2016

I took part on behalf of KBS in the Chartered Association of Business School Annual Research conference at Imperial Business School on 16/03/16 (http://charteredabs.org/events/annual-research-conference-2016/). Emerging themes on the day were 1) EU funding will become increasingly important, 2) In a very challenging funding environment, inter-disciplinary research is likely to be the way to thrive, 3) There is too much homogeneity in business school strategy and not enough risk-taking, 4) Nurturing partnerships cost-effectively will give you competitive advantage, and, 5) Funders are seeking ‘brokers’ who can bridge the gap between rigour and relevance.

Prof Robin Mason from Exeter presented analysis showing a very high concentration of research income among business schools in the UK – roughly 70% of the income goes to 20% of the Schools (http://charteredabs.org/publications/chartered-abs-publication-research-income-march-2016/. This income distribution has a Gini coefficient of 0.63, which is more unequal than any country in the world, even Brazil! Ouch. Scarce funding means that business school researchers will need to start partnering more with STEM researchers. In KBS for example Ben Lowe is working with EDA researchers on very forward-looking H2020 research proposals. The impact agenda was on the tip of most tongues and Prof Ammon Salter from Bath suggested that if empirical evidence was to be believed most researchers were willing to sacrifice their outputs for influence outside academia. But we don’t know enough yet about the determinants of successful impact, particularly the effect of incentives.

The inter-disciplinary pivot was much discussed. Cardiff Business School see too much homogeneity around they are going long on a strategy that focuses on delivering ‘public value’ – challenge-led, wicked problems, with an inter-disciplinary approach. Prof Staffan Furusten from the Stockhold Centre for Organisational Research offered sage advice – strong leadership, a dedicated physical location, an international outlook, stable project funding, participants with common research interests with at least one blocked day at the Centre, and clear thematic priorities that afford space for exploration are necessary. cultivate the norms and values required for successful collaboration with weekly seminars, regular workshops and social events. But Staffan also struck a note of caution: disciplines can be divided by norms, standards, ontologies, methods, and epistemology; it takes time; and it is messy. There are also institutional drags – currently inter-disciplinary research may not help you to attain future employment and promotion.

Finally, David Sweeney from HEFCE, who leads on the REF, and acerbic and entertaining in equal measures, pleaded with the audience to get rid of the ABS Journal Guide – business and management is the only discipline still using this type of research assessment tool. He also wondered why so few had made the leap to crossing boundaries when business schools ought to be the inter-discipliary centres par excellence. David suggested UK research priorities for business schools –  addressing long-run structural under-performance, poor productivity, the growing devolution agenda, agglomeration economies, and new opportunities for local growth. He ended with a clarion call for Universities to be anchor institutions (http://blog.hefce.ac.uk/2015/03/16/universities-as-anchor-institutions/).

Open Access – all that glitters is not Gold

Is open access a new normal for academic publishing? It is at least for researchers who would like to be submitted to the next REF. From 1st April 2016, researchers are responsible for ensuring that the substantive content of their journal articles is both freely available and it comes with a permissive licence (less Soho more Creative Commons). However a recent row about the real winners from open access is revealing – https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/academic-journal-markets-limitations-consequences-for-transition-to-open-access. The UK Government hoped that backing ‘Gold’ access might lead to a more diverse market of academic publishing. Of course, we know that funders took the view that open access would lead to a wider audience for commissioned research. One out of two isn’t bad. Back in 2011, investment analysts were downgrading Elsevier on the basis that open access would have negative consequences for their bottom line. Far from it. ‘Double-dipping’ and high-ish Article Processing Charges mean that the transition to open access is actually increasing the profits of established publishers and probably limiting competition. Back to the drawing board?

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