Early Career Female Researchers Beware: Message from the Political Studies Women and Politics Group

The Political Studies Women and Politics Group would like to draw your attention to a serious problem potentially affecting the careers of many women academics. The next research assessment exercise, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), is due to be completed in 2014 and HEFCE have opened a consultation/proposals on the conditions under which academics will be judged.

Deep within these new proposals are a couple of paragraphs that will have an impact on the perceived quality of many women academics’ research.

Usually to be included in the REF, an academic must have produced 4 articles of excellent research. Academics put forward their best pieces and they and their institutions are judged on them.

The first suggestion is that a woman who has had fewer than 14 months of maternity leave would not be eligible for any reduction in their REF submission. This 14 month figure means all women who have had one child in the cycle and many who have had two (academics commonly take 6 months leave or less per child) will not have their absence taken into account in any way.

This is made explicit in this document.

HEFCE have suggested that women who have taken less than 14 months maternity leave can only apply to have the number of published items that they must submit, reduced from the usual four, if they have had a ‘problematic’ pregnancy and their institution agrees.

Thus, HEFCE have decided that an academic who has taken a period of maternity leave in the cycle may only reduce the number of published items that they must submit, from the usual four, if they have had 14 months leave or more, or if they have had complications arising from the pregnancy and their institution supports them. This discriminates against women.

The first will proposal will require most women who have taken maternity leave to produce the same number of high quality items as those who have not had their research interrupted in any way. The second will leave women subject to the vagaries of individual institutions’ preferences and discretion and will lead to a wide variation in whether women are considered to be ‘good enough’ to put forward for the REF.

In practice under either mechanism many women with three excellent items who have had leave will either be left out of the REF and or they will be entered with a fourth weaker item; in both cases their research will be judged as second rate.

The HEFCE REF manager has referred us to the ‘consultation on draft penal [sic] criteria and working methods’, which can be accessed here and will close on the 5th of October.

Having a consultation on such a serious matter that starts and ends when academics are generally away doing their research is perhaps not entirely coincidental. We would like to urge you to help us raise awareness about this issue in an effort to force HEFCE to revise their proposed scheme. Our suggestion would be that women should be able to reduce their submission by one item per pregnancy, alternatively the amount of leave taken over the period could be calculated as a proportion and set against the number of items required. Crucially the number of items required should be rounded down not up, so that anyone who has had a period of maternity leave in the cycle may submit three and not four items.

The PSA Women and Politics Group

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