Dear Reader,

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.’

We nod.

‘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.


12 thoughts on “Gold Stars All Round

  1. Let me start, dear Ada, by congratulating you on your oeuvres. You are living proof of the truth of the old adage that a large font is key to success in the REF.

    I take issue, however, with a few of your minor points. I submit, firstly, that stars are a very backward way of measuring progress now that the newer, more go-ahead universities are making use of superhero and fairy stickers. And, secondly, I demand that Lucille should be promoted immediately. Is there a vacancy for the role of Professor of the Play of Light Upon Domestic Objects?

    1. My points are never minor, dear Mise. Humble, yes. Subtle, bien sur. But minor, no.

      Re: Endowed Chair in PLDO – please see your new colleagues in fine art. For reference, there will be a vacancy coming up in 24 hours or so (Director of Research). Perhaps you would care to apply?

      1. A small but necessary deception on my part. That was the dummy dear Adelaide. I wish Darren all joy in trying to convert lorem ipsum into an e-book.

    1. I wouldn’t worry about her, Lucille. You will have gathered by now, I’m sure, that she is severely delusional and bears a grudge against me for my own rapid and justified progress ,through the academic ranks while she limped on as an associate lecturer on the lower salary scale, but you will also notice that despite knowing her for over a decade I am still alive.

  2. Message to Darren from IT: URGENT

    I have a new book (2 vols) for you to process as e-book ASAP, Darren. Pls remove name ‘Lucille’ from cover – a failed experiment in using a nom-de-plume, dear boy! – and emblazon my own across the cover in the usual 32-point Lucinda font.

    PS I am still waiting for this week’s timesheet.

  3. Having read the REF purpose statement, I was curious to know if any members of the governing body had remembered to bring their reputational yardsticks to the meeting. If nothing else, they serve as grand correctional facilitators for dissenters. Also, being sanctioned by the body politic, they would cause less speculation and comment than clandestine appointments in the boiler room. To be sure, gold stars and fairy stickers are quite motivating, but there is nothing like a well placed whack from a reputational yardstick to establish an aura of excellence.

    1. How lovely to see you again, dear Ms End, with your timely reminders about the latest thinking in government benchmarking and the perils of complacency – non est satis praestantia, indeed. I have placed a set of the finest (sustainable) hardwood yardsticks in my mammoth-foot umbrella stand, and will be reminding others of them at the earliest opportunity.

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