Conference Papers

Metricisation of English Higher Education: Academics’ perspectives on impact of TEF and REF on professional practice

Higher Education (HE) has been subject to measurement on the basis of numerous parameters such as research, teaching, levels of internationalisation and often on a combination of these factors. The increased uses of various national and international metrics within HE have influenced institutional practices. In turn, institutional interpretations of these metrics influence the professional trajectories and values of academics and can create a kind of individual and institutional elitism within the HE sector. Kelly and Burrows (2011) have referred to one such metric in England, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) as ‘performative metricisation’, performance in which dictates academics privileges and institutional support for their research. Incentives such as promotion often drive individual researchers to focus their efforts on research outputs rather than anything else, including students (Finkel, 2014). However, the impact of metrics on institutional and individual behaviour is not always negative. In the case of the UK HE research metrics, studies of academic responses have demonstrated a situation ‘not as evenly negative as some of the literature prior RAEs suggested’ (Oancea 2014: 103) Indeed, differing institutional management strategies can mediate the effects of national metrics (O’Connell, 2017). Blackmore (2016) highlights how these metrics and indicators serve institutional interests but also individual ones in heightening individual prestige and marketability for academic staff.

The present study aims to capture academics’ perspectives on the impact the various teaching metrics such as the National Student Survey (NSS) and research metrics such as the REF have on institutional and individual teaching and research practices and priorities. A sequential mixed methods approach involving an online survey followed up by interviews was used for the study. The paper presents the findings of the data collected from over 100 academics from Education Faculties who participated in the online survey.

Initial findings indicate that most of the participants preferred to have a balanced research and teaching profile. Many acknowledged the pressures REF had created on their research due to various institutional interpretations of REF where individuals as one participant describes were being classified as ‘research possible’ or ‘research probable’. There were only a few who felt that their individual and institutional practices were oblivious to the pressures of REF. With regards to the teaching metrics, most participants felt that their teaching was still independent and not driven by performative measures such as NSS. In the paper, we intend to present these and other findings of the survey (Phase I) and the possible implications of the study.

O'Connell, C. and Rao, N. (2017) 'Metricisation of English Higher Education: Academics’ perspectives on impact of TEF and REF on professional practice', paper presented to The 13th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 29–30 June, viewed 13 August 2020, <>