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The ethics of Research Excellence

Conroy, J.C.; Smith, R.

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J.C. Conroy


We here analyse the ethical dimensions of the UK's ‘Research Excellence Framework’ (REF), the latest (2014) version of an exercise which assesses the quality of university research in the UK every seven or so years. We find many of the common objections to this exercise unfounded, such as that it is excessively expensive by comparison with alternatives such as various metrics, or that it turns on the subjective judgement of the assessors. However there are grounds for concern about the crude language in which for example all relevant scholarship becomes called ‘research’ and publications become ‘outputs’. The focus on the impact of research, which was a new feature of the most recent exercise, is particularly problematic, creating as it does a tendency to what Aristotle called alazony, self-aggrandisement, on the part of academics. We conclude that the REF is a mixed good from an ethical point of view, and that more could be done to mitigate its more unfortunate features.


Conroy, J., & Smith, R. (2017). The ethics of Research Excellence. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 51(4), 693-708.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 27, 2016
Online Publication Date Oct 24, 2017
Publication Date 2017-11
Deposit Date Jun 7, 2016
Publicly Available Date Oct 24, 2019
Journal Journal of Philosophy of Education
Print ISSN 0309-8249
Electronic ISSN 1467-9752
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 51
Issue 4
Pages 693-708


Accepted Journal Article (412 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is the accepted version of the following article: Conroy, J.C. & Smith, R. (2017). The ethics of Research Excellence. Journal of Philosophy of Education, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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