Northern Ireland

IRSP named on list to judge university research in 'error'

University students doing group study Image copyright Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Image caption The REF is the UK system for assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions

The Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) should not have been on a list of groups recommended to nominate potential assessors of research.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) said it appeared on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) list due to "an administrative error."

The party has close links to the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a republican paramilitary group.

It was included with more than 2,000 eligible groups.

'Similar acronym'

The REF is the UK system for assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions.

The list of nominating bodies who could suggest experts to take part in the assessment process was published by the HEFCE.

The IRSP was the only UK or Ireland political organisation to be included.

However, the HEFCE have now said that was due to an administrative mistake.

"It has been noted that the IRSP was on a contact list HEFCE maintains of organisations that might nominate experts to be Research Excellence Framework panel members," a spokesperson said.

"The IRSP was on this list due to a historical administrative error.

"An organisation with a very similar acronym had been suggested as a possible nominating body, and the wrong organisation was inadvertently entered into our records.

"We are correcting our contact list accordingly.

"Any organisation with an interest in research, whether on HEFCE's list or not, is able to nominate panellists for the REF."

'On its merits'

The REF is a major government-run exercise which assesses and ranks research carried out by academics and university departments, judging how important it is.

The next assessment is due to be published in 2021, but the process is already under way.

Panels of experts are currently being recruited to assess areas like arts and humanities, life and physical sciences, or medicine and social sciences.

The REF is run by HEFCE on behalf of the UK government and devolved administrations.

The HEFCE said, however, that political parties were free to nominate experts to assess academic research.

"If they or any other body were to nominate a research expert to be on a REF panel, that nomination would be judged on its merits and has no guarantee of being accepted," the funding council added.

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