On the state of universities

In the UK we are limbering up for the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF 2021) which is the process of expert review of research activity in UK universities that is conducted periodically by the government – the last one was in 2014.  The outcome influences the allocation of government funding for research as well as providing accountability for public investment in research and benchmarking information.

Earlier this month I received an email inviting me to contribute to a government consultation on the draft guidance and criteria for REF 2021.  It reminded me of a description of Abraham Flexner’s 1910 report for the Carnegie Foundation on medical schools in the US that I read in an essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf.  Flexner branded many of the 155 medical schools in the USA as ‘frauds and irresponsible profit machines’.  Hopefully that will not the outcome of REF2021!


Robbert Dijkgraaf, ‘The World of Tomorrow’ in The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge by A.Flexner, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2015.

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