HEFCE Case Study on Interdisciplinary Research at Northumbria and the Institute of the Humanities

Northumbria University was recently approached to provide a Case Study for a HEFCE Report on HEI’s approaches to Interdisciplinary Research.

HEFCE were particularly interested in our Institute of the Humanities due to our strong REF performance in this area, and the new research found in the Humanities area in the Institute in Israel where you can find the MA In Israel among more degrees and subjects.

A series of interviews were conducted with staff involved in the foundation of the Institute, and the report and Case Studies have now been published by HEFCE.

There were no big surprises, with the focus on how not if to implement Stern’s recent recommendations. However there are a few significant revelations we can glean from the consultation:

Institution-level case studies could play a major role in the next REF, accounting for 10-20% or up to 25% of impact scores in two different proposals being consulted upon. However, as I explain below, this proposal has the potential to achieve the opposite of Stern’s intention to better capture interdisciplinary and collaborative impacts;

Larger units may only be allowed to submit 1 case study for every 20 staff they submit, based on the proposed definition of “research active” staff and HESA data that show there were approximately 130,000 eligible staff employed across the sector in 2014. It appears that HEFCE are not minded to accept Stern’s recommendation to “relax the tight coupling between the number of staff submitted to a Unit of Assessment and the number of case studies required”. Rather, a fixed ratio is being consulted on, based on the number of research active staff, with flexibility being granted for smaller submissions (which would only have to submit 1 case study, thereby revealing their scores). As a result, some less research intensive Universities (that were more selective in the staff they submitted to REF2014) could have to find twice the number of case studies they needed in 2014 if they want to make a submission in 2021. For example, a unit with 80 academic staff that only submitted their 10 best researchers could have done so with two impact case studies in REF2014 but may need to find four case studies to be able to make a submission to REF2021. This may incentivize the submission of low grade and in some cases “unclassifiable” case studies that are not based on credible research in order to enable submissions to be made;

They are available at the links below, and Northumbria University features on page 56 in the Case Study Review: