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Machine learning points the way to a simpler REF

An automated, two-tier evaluation could be less burdensome and more transparent, says Lloyd Balbuena.

Imagine that a rich parent has died, leaving you £12 billion to share with 120 relatives. The easiest thing would be to divide the money equally, but the youngest is two years old and the eldest has worked for the family firm for 20 years. So you decide to pay a consultant £250 million to ensure that each person’s inheritance takes into account his or her contribution to the family business.

Broadly, this is how the Research Excellence Framework works. It is an exercise for dividing research funding according to merit. In REF 2014, merit was assessed by panels of experts who reviewed university products at department level.

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