Don’t hate the player… hate the game! How our different conceptions of an academic professional identity can influence our perceptions of the REF and TEF

Research and teaching metrics loom large over the landscape of UK higher education. Measurements of research and teaching quality are not exactly new in UK HE but it is hard to find many parallels with the level of reform to both research and teaching evaluation systems which has occurred over the past 24 months.  Amid a research discourse which characterizes the spread and impact of these metrics using metaphors of illness or pathology, our research takes a critical stance, examining the nature of these evaluation systems and the potential for organisational and individual practices to either amplify or mediate their effects.

To some, the metrics are a curse and clear sign of the declining “health” of the academy; to others they are just another system to be learned or “gamed” to their own advantage. Drawing on Durkheim’s metaphor of a social pathology, we examine the ways in which academics negotiate or accommodate their professional practices and priorities in response to the various teaching and research metrics. This has lead our research to examine how conceptualisations of professionalism in HE could be an important factor influencing individual responses to metrics.

In this presentation we will present data collected through surveys and interviews involving 109 academics based in Education related departments (e.g. Ed Studies, SEN, and Early Childhood) in universities across the UK. Based on their accounts we aim to demonstrate that patterns of response to the metrics that we have identified reflect a deeper difference in how these various academics conceptualize their professional identity. You may even recognize your own reaction in one or more of these patterns (Are you an Adam, a Barbara or a Carol? Come along and find out…)

Ultimately we will take a critical look at the pathology metaphor itself. If we see research and teaching metrics as being “unhealthy”, we have to consider who are they unhealthy for? What may be healthy for the individual or institution may be unhealthy for their discipline or colleagues. However you feel about metrics, love them or loath them, we hope our talk will offer you an insight and maybe even a new perspective with which we can all interrogate our own reaction to metricization.