MMU Research and Knowledge Exchange Blog

Funding opportunities, news and guidance from RKE at Manchester Metropolitan University


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Consensus and conflict: what do responses to Stern tell us about the future of the REF?

Check out this article from Wonkhe, Higher Education: Policy, People and Politics, written by James Wilsdon:

For the higher education sector, the past six months have seen policy proposals emerge so thick and fast that a degree of consultation fatigue is setting in. The most recent process, which closed in late March, was for Lord Stern’s review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). And with a white paper lying just around the corner, the machinery of consultation will soon be cranking up again.

As a service to the Wonkhe community (and to reassure the response-drafters among you that you have at least a few devoted readers), I’ve spent the past couple of weeks digesting all the submissions to the Stern Review I could lay my hands on. I’ve read thirty-six in total – most of them publicly available, and a few private – from a mix of HEIs, mission groups, learned societies and lobby groups.

Taken together, what do these responses tell us about the likely direction of the Stern Review? And what hints do they offer about the design of the next REF? Nothing is certain, of course, as Lord Stern and his panel could head off in their own direction. But based on the responses I’ve read, let me highlight four points on which there is widespread agreement, and four where positions diverge. I’ve anonymised quotes from those responses which haven’t been made public.

To continue reading, please visit Wonkhe.

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After the Green Paper: How Will Research Policy and Funding Change Over the Next Five Years?

Drawing on his experience as a long-term analyst of UK research policy, James Wilsdon (Director of Policy, Impact and Engagement, University of Sheffield) will offer some insights and predictions about the future of the policy and funding landscape, broaching questions such as:

• What do all of these changes add up to for researchers and research managers, trying to navigate and respond to the ever-shifting priorities of policymakers?
• How much do we know about the shape of the funding system two, three or five from years from now, and how much remains uncertain?
• What opportunities will Research UK bring?
• Is the impact agenda likely to increase or diminish in importance?
• What threats does a possible Brexit pose to the future of EU funding?
• And will the REF survive in a recognisable form, or be reshaped into a more automated, metric-based system?

1-4pm Wednesday 2 March 2016

Room 5.04, Business School

For more information and to reserve your place, please contact Ann Marie McDonald.


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HEFCE Publishes Database of REF Impact Case Studies

HEFCE has published a searchable database containing all of the 6,700 or so REF impact case studies. The database, commissioned by HEFCE and produced by Digital Science is available here: http://impact.ref.ac.uk/casestudies

The database coincides with the release of a report available here that is launched today at a conference being hosted by the Royal Society and HEFCE in London. Headline analysis in the report includes the following:

  • The societal impact of research from UK Higher Education Institutions is considerable, diverse and fascinating
  • The research underpinning societal impacts is multidisciplinary, and the social benefit arising from research is multi-impactful
  • Different types of Higher Education Institutions specialize in different types of impact
  • UK Higher Education Institutions have a global impact
  • The quantitative evidence supporting claims for impact was diverse and inconsistent, suggesting that the development of robust impact metrics is unlikely
  • The impact case studies provide a rich resource for analysis, but the information is collected for assessment purposes and may need to be aligned for analysis purposes

The analysis presented in this report was a collaboration between the Policy Institute and Digital Humanities at King’s College London.

HEFCE are also publishing an evaluation of how universities prepared their impact submissions for REF 2014. Available at: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1032.html


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Open Access in Focus – Guest Blog part III

Open AccessGuest Blog from Mary Pickstone, Research Support Librarian m.pickstone@mmu.ac.uk 

This article was originally posted on 26th March 2014

In this week’s blog I’m going to look at some of the advantages, and some of the disadvantages, of OA.

Two of the advantages are a wider readership and quicker dissemination of research.

Research published OA is more widely read, therefore authors get a much wider audience than they would through the readership of a subscription journal.  Readers, for example those in developing countries, who may have only limited access to research literature because of the high cost of pay-per-view charges (journal subscriptions and article viewing charges) can access more journals.  The general public, small businesses, and other readers from ‘outside the academy’ can access research literature, which is, after all, often paid for by their taxes.

Research published OA is disseminated more quickly than research that is published via a more traditional subscription route and can also be re-used, subject to the conditions of the relevant Creative Commons (CC) licence attribution.

A key factor in the success of research is its impact, and funding bodies, including HEFCE via the Research Excellence Framework (REF), are looking for evidence of how this can be demonstrated. Widening the readership and a more rapid dissemination of the research through OA publication can contribute to this.

Some of the disadvantages of OA include:

The article processing charge, or APC, required by many journals to publish articles via the gold route; embargo periods imposed by traditional subscription journals on articles deposited in subject or institutional repositories; the potential threat to the viability of journals published by small publishers such as Learned Societies if subscription charges disappeared; the perceived threat to peer review, and hence quality control, of research in OA journals.

How funds are allocated amongst researchers to pay for APCs is a question currently vexing many universities, and there is a perception that it could disadvantage new and early career researchers who may need to bid for funds against more senior colleagues. APCs are an additional expense for many institutions whose libraries are paying subscriptions for journals, often the very same ones which charge APCs to publish via the gold route.

The green route to OA via repositories is thought to hinder OA as publishers try to maximise subscription income and prevent full-text access to their articles.  They do this by imposing embargo periods on published articles.  Research Councils UK (RCUK) in its OA policy has stipulated that these embargoes should be no longer than 6 months for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects and 12 months for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

The concerns about the demise of peer review are probably unfounded.  There are now many OA journals that are highly reputable and insist on a rigorous peer review process, for example PLOS One and PubMed.  Hybrid journals, which publish some articles via the gold route, apply as rigorous a peer-review process to these articles as they do to those published conventionally.

Next time I will round off this series by outlining MMU’s response to OA.    


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Open Access in Focus – Guest Blog part II

Open Access

Guest Blog from Mary Pickstone, Research Support Librarian m.pickstone@mmu.ac.uk

This article was originally posted 14th March 2014.

This week’s Open Access (OA) blog will explore the different types of OA.

OA research articles are primarily delivered to the reader via OA journals – the so-called ‘Gold’ route – or repositories (institutional or by discipline) – the ‘Green’ route.

Gold Open Access is immediate OA ie accessible to the reader with no charge.  However, this route often comes with a charge to the author, the so-called Article Processing Charge, or APC, which is levied by publishers for articles published in their journals. The APC is therefore a charge to ‘pay-to-publish’.

OA journals operate under a variety of business models which have been developed to accommodate different disciplines, or the situation in different countries.  Some traditional subscription journals from the mainstream publishers offer an option of publishing OA articles in a so-called ‘hybrid’ model.  The author, or their institution or sponsoring body, will usually have to pay an APC to publish these articles OA, and they will appear alongside the majority of articles in the journal which are ‘pay-per-view’.

It just so happens that many of the high prestige, high impact journals – in which you are probably being encouraged to publish – come with APCs to publish OA, but there are many OA journals which do not charge, or whose APC charges are very low. I will discuss MMU’s response to this in a later blog.

The use of APCs is inevitably controversial, particularly when libraries are already paying to subscribe to the very same journals where APCs are being charged to publish OA.

The Finch Report favours gold OA so, to try to help with the transition to a fully OA model of publishing, the RCUK has given some Universities money to help pay for APCs.  However, the allocation is based on previous and projected funding by the Research Councils so universities such as MMU, which are aspiring to expand their research output but which have not traditionally received a lot of RCUK funding, have not received much of this transition money.

The alternative to the gold route to OA is the green route.  By this route an article can be made available via a repository, either a subject repository eg ArXiv in Physics, Maths and Computer Science, or an institutional repository such as MMU’s e-space, usually after an embargo period imposed by individual publishers (typically 6 months for STEM subjects, longer for the Humanities).  Articles made OA by the green route will not usually be the published version but an ‘author final copy’, or post-print, which has been peer-reviewed and corrected and is, as far as the content is concerned, the same as it appears in the journal.

E-space, MMU’s repository, is managed by the Library.  It contains journal articles, both pre-prints (journal articles submitted for peer-review) and author final copies, as well as book chapters, working papers, conference presentations and other types of output in a variety of file types and formats.

Next time I will explore some of the issues surrounding OA including the  impact and dissemination of research, and how OA works with different disciplines and outputs.


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Open Access in Focus – Guest Blog part I

Open AccessGuest Blog from Mary Pickstone, Research Support Librarian m.pickstone@mmu.ac.uk

This article was originally posted 6th March 2014.

Over the last 18 months or so the concept of Open Access (OA) publishing has risen up the research agenda.  I thought it might be timely to share some of the things I’ve discovered about OA, and discuss how MMU is responding, in a series of weekly blogs throughout March.

This week I shall try to explain why OA has become important and look at some of the drivers behind the movement.  I will follow this over the next few weeks with blogs on the different models of OA (eg ‘gold vs green’) including the role of e-space, MMU’s Institutional Repository, a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of OA, how OA affects academic libraries, and how MMU is responding to this agenda.

‘Open Access (OA) literature is digital, online and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.’ as defined by Peter Suber (2004), one of the leading proponents of OA.  It can apply to any digital content, for example journal articles, e-books, data, images, audio, video, multimedia and software.

The idea of OA has been around for a while but there has been a recent upsurge in interest triggered by the Government sponsored report ‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’ popularly known as the Finch Report, 2012, and the research community’s responses to it.

One of the arguments for OA is that publicly funded research should be accessible by everyone at point of use rather than accessible only to those who can pay for articles or subscribe to journals, or has access paid on their behalf by academic and other institutions.  It is also argued that timely access to the outputs of research, which the OA model brings, offers significant social and economic benefits, and contributes more quickly to the development of new research.

Since the Finch Report, the Research Councils and other funders have responded by issuing policies and guidelines, or reinforcing their existing policies, advising researchers about how research funded by them should be published in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings.

Another driver pushing the OA agenda is ‘impact’.  OA articles are generally read more quickly and by a wider readership than conventionally published articles, and their findings are therefore used more quickly in further research.

The current Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 is looking at the role of the impact of research submitted and, while the exact criteria for the next REF in 2020 are still being decided, it can be assumed that impact will remain an important factor.  It is highly likely therefore that there will be a mandate ensuring the majority of submissions will be published Open Access.

Next week I shall look at the different types of Open Access Publication – gold and green – and the role e-space and Article Processing Charges play in this.

Suber, P. (2004, last revised December 16, 2013) Open Access Overview: Focusing on open access to peer-reviewed research articles and their preprints. [Online] [Accessed on 03.03.14] http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm

Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings. (2012) ‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’ [Online] [Accessed on 03.03.14] http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf


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REF by Numbers? HEFCE launches consultation into use of metrics for research assessment

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has launched a formal call for evidence relating to the use of metrics in research assessment and management. The review will explore the potential use of metrics for research assessment, consider their robustness across different discipline areas, and assess their potential contribution to the development of research excellence and impact.

Professor Wilsdon (Science Policy Unit, University of Sussex) is leading the independent review that defines metrics as “the quantitative analysis of scientific and scholarly research outputs and their impacts. Metrics include a variety of measures and statistical methods for assessing the quality of and broader impact of scientific and scholarly research.”

The call for evidence asks academics to identify useful metrics for research assessment, to consider how those metrics should be used in research assessment, ‘gaming’ and strategic use of metrics, and the international perspective.

The outcomes from the review will inform the work of HEFCE and the other UK higher education funding bodies as they prepare for future iterations of the Research Excellence Framework.

The deadline for responses is Monday 30th June, and MMU’s RKE team is coordinating an MMU institutional response to the call for evidence. If you are interested in feeding into this exercise then please email s.gray@mmu.ac.uk for further information.

Alternatively, you can find out more by going to: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/whatwedo/rsrch/howfundr/metrics/