Lancaster response to REF appeal: All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds

On October 15 I received an email from my Head of Department informing me that “Your appeal against REF inclusion has been discussed, and I have been mandated as HoD to send a response, which is attached.  The next stage, if you are not satisfied with the response, is to contact the Head of HR to ask for a review of the case to be heard by the Dean of another Faculty.

The HoD did not say by whom my appeal had been discussed, but his use of the bureaucratic passive suggests to me that the responsibility for the contents of the response is not his alone, even though it is delivered under his signature.  I was not surprised to learn that in the University’s view “There are … no grounds for upholding the appeal of Professor Sayer against REF inclusion.

The document was not marked confidential.  In the interests of transparency and fair play to all concerned, I am making both the HoD’s response and my reply (which will form part of the evidence submitted in the review of the case by the Dean of another Faculty) public.

These texts may not make the lightest of reading, but there is much in them to reward aficionados of Kafkan humour noir.   They might also entertain lovers of the old BBC TV series “Yes, Minister.”

I have already posted the text of my original appeal here.  The new documents may be found here:

Head of Department’s response to my appeal against inclusion in the REF

My reply to HoD’s response


The only alterations I have made to either document is to remove the names of individuals.


I have only one general observation to make at this stage.  In the course of rebutting my charge of inconsistent treatment of colleagues within History, my HoD describes the process eventually used to select individuals for the Lancaster’s REF submission as follows:

“all outputs would be read and evaluated by the critical friend, and … in given sets of circumstances further readings and evaluations by subject specialists may be commissioned, for example, where the critical friend had specifically recommended this on the grounds of his own uncertainty about an evaluation, or where an overall profile fell on a borderline. Since not all initial evaluations by the critical friend necessitated, in his view, further subject specialist evaluation, this option was not pursued in all cases.”

In other words, in all cases except those where the Critical Friend recommended it or aggregate scores fell on a borderline, there was no specialist quality appraisal for any outputs except those that happened to fall within that Critical Friend’s own field of academic expertise.  The latter would be a small minority, given the chronological, geographic, and thematic range of research published by members of the Department.

Does Lancaster really think such processes of “evaluating” academic research are consistent with a claim to be “a truly world leading university in which we perform at the leading edge of academic endeavour” (Lancaster University website)?

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