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Research part II

As many of you know, I’m keen on Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy about fostering kindness in our lives and institutions. At Arts University Plymouth, kindness is one of our values and I do my best to bear this in mind every day.

I have come from an established and wealthy university into a new, young university that has never entered the REF before. REF stands for Research Excellence Framework. I do everything I can to support colleagues to be world-class and dynamic. It’s not a competition and we need to support each other.

As mentioned in my previous blog, I aim for quality outputs like collaborations, publications and exhibitions, and an impact of these outputs beyond academia and my university. 

The 2028 REF

We are now two years into the next REF assessment period, 2021-2027. It looks as though the 2028 REF will assess less of the performance of individuals and more of the contribution and impact institutions and disciplines make to healthy, dynamic, and inclusive research environments:

  • People and culture (25% weighting)
  • Contribution to knowledge and understanding (50% weighting)
  • Engagement and impact (25% weighting)

We really need to understand what this means, but one thing I do know – impact needs to be measured.

Two-way partnership between the academic and their university

Changes to the REF won’t change what I do. Basically, I’ll continue to work hard on my search for colour and make it accessible internationally for students, alumni, and our communities. I’ll build a strong research portfolio and make the most of every opportunity to promote Arts University Plymouth. It’s always a two-way relationship. Your institution should be doing everything it can to:

  • Shape the research strategy
  • Communicate the research strategy
  • Support all academics to develop their practice and research

Universities can enhance their profile through the talent they employ, and vice-versa.

What is real searching within art education?

30 days research for full-time university lecturers is standard. Of course, this must be evidenced, outward-facing and benefit our students, the community, and the university within the REF framework.

Universities should be transparent about their research offerings – they should look for ways to enhance their profile through their academics.

Everyone understands research takes time

Research is about give and take. Giving time to the academic means that the university will be able to take gold from them at the next REF. However, the old English proverb, ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it’ applies here. You can’t have it both ways. Opportunities can be missed when insufficient research time is allocated to academics:

  • Goodwill and talent can be lost
  • The university fails to attract talent
  • No quality research to present for the next REF means lack of funding and status

It’s important to make strategic decisions about where to deploy high-calibre research time.


This brings me back to my conversation with Levinas about two aspects of language: ‘The Saying’ and ‘The Said’. For the artist and lecturer, ‘The Saying’ is the content of your work that comes into being through your environment and the embodied experience. Then there is ‘The Said’ which encompasses your skills in the use of the materials and the six visual languages. This works at both an institutional level and at a personal level.

Search is about finding something by looking. It’s about seeking carefully and thoroughly about how the world fits together. With kindness at the heart of this search, true alchemy can take place.