UCU AFRI Principles

Improving the research process at Newcastle University

On June 6 2016 the Deputy Vice-Chancellor agreed that, in return for the UCU halting industrial action, management would withdraw the ‘Raising the Bar’ (RTB) terminology and the ‘Research Expectations and Performance’ documents (RIPE). Instead, both parties agreed to work together to ‘develop a common understanding and collegial approach to improving research’ – the Alternative Framework for Research Improvement (AFRI). In contrast to RTB, this is a bottom-up process, devolved to the unit level.

This document is produced by UCU Newcastle branch to aid Heads of School/Unit in working with their staff to produce local iterations of AFRI. It is also aimed at helping academics (UCU members and non-members) take an active role in this, as mandated by the June 6 agreement. It is based on scholarly evidence, the 2016 Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework (‘the Stern review’), Newcastle University’s statutes and June 2016 agreement with the UCU, and statements and principles issued or endorsed by HEFCE.

This is not a document on governance. RTB indicated serious problems of top-down governance at Newcastle University, in particular the formulation of a programme which middle managers (heads of unit) who had the best sense of what would work were expected to implement but had no role in designing. That question (which was partially identified in the 2015 Report from the Working Group on Governance) needs tackling by the university as a whole, but is beyond the remit of this report. There are encouraging signs that the university as a whole is learning from the RTB experience.

Rather, this document is a statement of (1) foundations, (2) guiding principles and obligations, and (3) monitoring processes that the UCU will observe in working with managers to ensure the June 6th agreement is honoured. Appendix 1 contains a practical example of how ‘Learning Communities’ can be used by units to develop the research process and improve research at Newcastle University, and Appendix 2 is a suggestion about how AFRI can be reviewed for Equality and Diversity issues.

Download full statement of principles here.