I am delighted to inform you that the latest Research Excellence Framework meeting has taken place.
Oh, dear Reader. You look disappointed (yes, I can see you*).
What is This Thing, I hear you say, the Research Excellence Framework, otherwise known by those with a tin ear for the euphonious acronym as the REF?
Dear Reader. If you must know, look here. I will wait.
Now that you are back from your lie down in a darkened room, perhaps you will want to hear about our meeting this morning.
It was a gathering of the best and brightest. There was Professor Mise, Teaching Assistant Lucille, Jess the School Manager, Professor Chris Anthemum (a vision in yellow), Cornelia the Janitor, Dr Piper, Director of Research, and me.
We assembled at the table near the fireplace, sous Jenny.** After some good-natured banter about recent steep declines in student retention, Dr Piper cleared his throat.
‘Devil take the students, every last one of them’, he said. ‘All that really matters is the REF.’
‘I trust you have brought your books, articles, dictionaries, book reviews, databases and advertorials with you this morning for inspection?’, he continues. ‘For today I will be awarding them stars’.
Someone lets out a shriek of delight.
Dr Piper frowns at Lucille.
Professor Mise volunteers to go first. She heaves an oversized portfolio case onto the table.
‘Behold’, she says, ‘the fruits of my last six years’ labour.
It is a triptych of the Madonna, Child, and donkey at the beach. Each ptych has taken me two years to complete. I call it Madonna aux coquillages’.
Dr Piper looks cross. ‘I’m afraid we will have to submit you to our rival panel in Art History, Professor Mise. Next!’
Lucille clears her throat.
‘Next!’, he says. ‘You are but a teaching assistant on a zero hours contract’.
Lucille wipes away a tear as she tucks her 2-volume magnum opus What the Rosetta Stone Really Says: The Shocking Truth back into her rucksack.
And so it goes, dear Reader. Jess has brought nothing more than a set of minutes from the previous meeting (Dr Piper awards it 3 gold stars). Chris rummages in her handbag and produces a small shard with the word ‘KEA’ on it – a treasure from the Hnaeffean Dig, she says (2 stars). Cornelia offers her mop (4 stars). Finally, Dr Piper turns to me.
I place my assembled oeuvres on the table. It bows slightly. There is a small pause.
‘And how would you rate your work?’, says Dr Piper.
‘Stellar, stellar, stellar, and of intergalactic significance, respectively’, I say.
Dr Piper breathes out.
‘Wonderful’, he says. ‘But the ratings system has changed. We now award 1-4 stars, in pastel, metallic, fluorescent, and gold.’
‘Ah yes’, I say. ‘But bear in mind that I am leaving under the terms of the voluntary severance agreement and instead of being part of your REF return my oeuvres will shortly be turned into e-books and sold for untold personal profit. I am merely quoting the puff’.***
At this Dr Piper looks shaken. ‘You’re making me ill’, he says.
‘Already?’, I say. ‘Have another macaroon, dear Peter.’
And you, dear Reader? How many stars are you?
* Thank you, Darren from IT. The cameras are working very well.
** I believe I heard the low thrum of a Ferrari engine in the car park, but I was too busy arranging the macaroons on a plate to take a look.
*** Dear Reader, no. It is a bookselling term for the reasoned and thoroughly justified praise placed on the back of books, so my publisher tells me.