Raising the Bar

Newcastle University exists ‘for the public benefit, to advance education, learning and research’ (Statutes). Because the funding and policy environments in which higher education occurs has changed dramatically in recent years, securing the necessary resources to achieve this increasingly depends on performing well in various metric-gathering exercises. As these metric exercises are flawed and problematic,[1] and require fundamental changes to the nature and practice of academic labour, this raises a series of questions about how we succeed in this environment whilst remaining true to our vocation. Raising the Bar (RTB), and in particular its Research and Performance Expectations (RiPE), was Newcastle University’s Senior Management’s attempt to answer these questions between 2013 and 2016.

Although RTB came to mean many different things, its primary answer to the above questions was to attempt to ‘game’ key metric exercises of the REF and international reputational league tables by a two-fold approach: firstly, to target substantial additional resources at those Units of Assessment deemed best-placed to rise up the tables, and secondly to introduce an Outcomes-Based Management (OBPM) system which attempted to embed a range of RiPE targets in personnel management. Although the first element of RTB was divisive, it was this second aspect of RTB that was the most controversial, leading to widespread divisive unhappiness, upset and opposition, culminating in industrial action taken by the University and College Union in June 2016. The matter was resolved by the Academic Framework for Research Improvement (AFRI) agreement between the UCU and management, which ended the industrial action and saw the withdrawal of RiPE and the RTB terminology and set out principles to guide the university in moving forwards in a more collaborative, bottom-up approach to improving research. The dispute attracted widespread local, national and international attention, both during the dispute and subsequently.

Attached is the final report on the Raising the Bar dispute. UCUReportRTBSept2017

[1] James Wilsdon et al,. “The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management “, HEFCE, 2015.