Do select committees deserve ‘universal praise’?

In this post, Dr Stephen Bates and Dr Mark Goodwin argue that a more rounded evaluation of Select Committees is needed to assess whether they deserve ‘universal praise’.

By Stephen Bates and Mark Goodwin

Rupert Murdoch being attacked with a custard pie. Michael Gove alleging a ‘Trot conspiracy’ in English schools. The vice president of Google being informed that ‘you do evil’. Three highlights of the last Parliament, all of which took place within hearings of House of Commons select committees. These cross-party groups of MPs have become an important site for the exercise of Parliament’s scrutiny function and have been regarded by some as arguably the most significant and successful recent innovation in the relationship between the UK government and its legislature. While these committees have limited legislative powers when viewed in comparison with committees in other parliaments, they have received ‘universal praise’ – according to the Wright Committee on Reform of the House – from media, academic analyses and from parliamentarians themselves. Since undergoing significant reform in 2010, select committees have gained a higher profile (see research on media coverage by Dunleavy or Kubala (2011)) and, many claim, have become even more assertive and effective. For example, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, recently claimed that the 2010 reforms have made Select Committees ‘pivotal players in politics’.

On what basis is such ‘universal praise’ made? Perhaps not on as reliable or comprehensive an evidence base as one might wish. Important research in this area does, of course, exist. For example, the work of Meghan Benton and Meg Russell (2013) and of Andrew Hindmoor, Phil Larkin and Andrew Kennon (2009) tracks the influence of select committee reports on legislative proposals brought forward by government. Yet, while these studies are extremely useful in evaluating some of the work of Select Committees, they cannot provide a complete picture since select committees are not solely, or even primarily, legislative committees. For example, much of the praise enjoyed by select committees is related to their investigative work, as for example, with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into phone hacking, or the Public Accounts Committee’s work on tax avoidance by transnational corporations. Indeed, since 2002 and under an overall aim of holding “Ministers and Departments to account for their policy and decision-making and to support the House in its control of the supply of public money and scrutiny of legislation”, departmental select committees have operated with a series of core tasks – revised in 2013 and currently ten in number: scrutiny of (1) departmental strategy; (2) departmental policy; (3) departmental expenditure and performance; (4) draft bills; (5) post-legislative processes and outcomes; (6) draft EU legislation and EU documents; (7) departmental appointments; (8) assisting the House in the consideration of Bills and Statutory Instruments; (9) supporting the House by informing debate through reports; and (10) engaging with the public. To these tasks can be added those of the ‘domestic’ or ‘administrative’ select committees, such as the Procedure and Backbench Business Committees, concerning the organisation and running of the House, as well as perhaps informal tasks related to, for example, providing a training ground for MPs destined for the (shadow) cabinet. Hindmoor et. al. also talk of five potential targets for select committee influence: government, Parliament, political parties, the media, and interest groups – to which can perhaps be added a sixth: the general public. Taken together, these tasks and targets produce a fairly complex matrix by which to identify and measure different indicators of select committee performance.

A more rounded evaluation of select committees in general and of the impact of the 2010 reforms in particular, then, requires empirical evidence across a wide range of areas. It is to this purpose that our Select Committee Data Archive Project (1979-present), part funded by the British Academy, is directed. Drawing on Sessional Returns and other parliamentary documents, as well as existing datasets on MPs’ backgrounds and parliamentary careers, we are collecting and analysing information on select committee membership, activity and outputs in order to provide evidence that can help to evaluate some of the different facets of select committee performance or, where this is not possible from the data collected, to point towards where and how we might be able to find such evidence. This should hopefully put us in a better position to decide whether praise for the different aspects of select committee work is deserved or otherwise.

Dr Stephen Bates is lecturer in political science at the Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham. His main research is at the intersection of British politics, governance research, and political sociology.


 Dr Mark Goodwin is post-doctoral fellow in public policy at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge. His main research interests are in contemporary British politics and public policy, especially schools policy in England.


First Published on Political Studies Association Parliamenta and Legislatures Specialist Group site on 21st May 2015

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Why the zero-carbon homes policy hasn’t gone to plan

In this post, Max Lempriere, PhD Researcher at The Department of Political Science and International Studies discusses why the zero-carbon home policy has not gone to plan.

Is this zero-carbon? No one really knows. Yui Mok/PA

One of the UK’s flagship sustainability policies is in big trouble. Less than a year from now, the theory goes, all new homes will be “zero-carbon”. The reality is rather different. Economic meltdown, a housing crisis, pressure from developers and poorly designed legislation have all combined to leave the country way behind schedule.

The policy dates back to 2006, when the Labour administration introduced stringent sustainability legislation. All new homes, they said, would be “zero-carbon” by 2016. The provision of solar panels (and other renewable energy technologies) and better energy efficiency would balance out emissions from heating, lighting and use of appliances leaving net emissions at zero.

To achieve this, building regulations were to be progressively tightened in the run up to 2016 and a Zero Carbon Hub would be formed to knock together the heads of house builders, NGOs and bureaucrats.

At the time this target was hailed as world leading and on some level the policy has been a success. By December 2014 some 33,000 homes had been built to sustainable standards, according to one measure. However, we need to look at the bigger picture.

Fast forward a decade or so and under the Conservative-led coalition government the agenda has spluttered from problem to problem. The reforms to building regulations have been delayed and are not achieving the kinds of levels envisaged. The latest were introduced a year late and only achieved a 33% improvement in energy performance, against a promised 44%. This leaves a big gap between where we are now and the next iteration, which is supposed to achieve “zero-carbon”.

What actually is a zero-carbon home?

More worryingly, despite six years of negotiations it still isn’t clear how “zero-carbon” will be defined. What we do know is that zero-carbon is likely to be anything but.

The definition of emissions, for example, was weakened in the 2011 budget. It now includes emissions from heating and lighting but it wont include those from “unregulated energy” – that is, energy used by appliances within the home.

High hopes for zero-carbon, back in 2006. Steve Parsons/PA

Emission reductions won’t even have to be achieved in the house itself. “Allowable solutions” have been introduced instead, a level of emissions above which developers can pay into a fund for low-carbon infrastructure to be built elsewhere as a way to “off-set” carbon.

Precisely at what level these allowable solutions will kick in is not clear, nor how the fund will work in reality. What is clear is that developments of fewer than ten houses (which comprise the vast majority of house-building) will be exempt from allowable solutions. Tellingly, the WWF left the Zero-Carbon Hub in protest against what it saw as a “watering down” of policy.

With so many details still to be decided, it is unsurprising that there is little confidence that the 2016 target will be met.

Zero-carbon comes at a price

This is not necessarily the coalition’s fault however. In many ways it is the result of inherent contradictions within the policy. The underlying rhetoric has been that technology – solar panels, heat pumps, insulation and so on – will do all of the hard work and consumers need not worry themselves about how they engage with and run their homes.

But who pays for this technology? Government figures show that complying with the 2010 sustainable building regulations meant a 5% increase in real production costs compared to 2006. Complying with 2013 regulations would see that figure rise to 9%. Want to build to the strictest zero-carbon standards? That’s a 50% increase.

Labour never adequately addressed the question of “who pays”, sowing the seeds for today’s problems. More often than not it has been housing developers who have had to shoulder the costs because there has never been a significant enough “price premium” attached to sustainable homes.

These costs would come down as technologies and expertise became more widespread, but the 2008 credit crisis and the increased politicisation of housing affordability and supply changed things. These sustainability requirements had the potential to hinder the construction of new housing, so developers were vocal in their opposition.

The coalition has been more sympathetic to developers than other parties may have been. Yet in many ways these policy reforms were inevitable. While it would be nice to say that the government should force increased costs on builders, the reality is very different as the government must consider whether environmental policy will jeopardise housing supply. In the midst of a financial crisis, the industry couldn’t afford the costs associated with the initial zero-carbon proposals.

In many ways this watering down could have been avoided if the initial policy had more of a focus on giving home owners an incentive to be greener. The challenge for the next administration is finding a way to encourage developers to build the homes we desperately need while sharing sustainability demands between both buyers and builders. We need homes, but we owe it to future generations to make them green

First Published on The Conversation 15th April 2015

Max Lempriere is a third year PhD student in POLSIS at the University of Birmingham. His research interests include central-local governance arrangements, local government innovation and the politics of environmental governance.

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The West Midlands – a bellwether for the election?

Cherry Bio PhotoIn this post, Cherry Miller discusses the key battleground seats and issues in the West Midlands. The original version of this post was published as part of the General Election 2015 series on the LSE British Politics and Policy Blog on 14th April 2015

It would seem churlish for any contributor in this series not to stake a claim for their region as the bellwether region of the UK. In the 2010 General Election, the West Midlands played a pivotal role in denying the outgoing Labour government a majority and there are at least 10 ‘marginal’ seats up for grabs this time around. The region is dominated by a two way pull between Conservatives and Labour and in 2010 there was an above average negative swing towards the Conservatives who now hold the majority of seats in the region. The West Midlands region includes Birmingham, Coventry, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. The West Midlands does not resemble fertile territory for the Liberal Democrats who will largely be leading defensive campaigns in Birmingham Yardley and Solihull. There are 59 parliamentary constituencies in the West Midlands. Currently the Conservatives hold 33, Labour 24, and the Liberal Democrats hold 2. For the first time, the Green Party will contest all seats in the 2015 Election.



Public Services- The attribution of political responsibility for the pressure on public services by councils responding to financial challenge will be contingent upon voting intentions. An illustrative example is Birmingham City Council who has reduced opening hours at the Library of Birmingham and has introduced an unpopular annual charge for the collection of garden waste. Policing is also a significant local issue in the West Midlands and the Labour Party announced an £800m pledge to protect police numbers nationally and to abolish PCCs. The region is also home to Stafford hospital and the NHS will feature strongly in party campaigns across the political divide. Welfare changes such as the removal of the spare room subsidy has generated much controversy in the region.

Jobs, Skills and Growth- The region has the second highest rate of unemployment in the country which comprises 6.5% of the economically active population[1] and the third highest number of young people not in employment, education or training[2]. The region has a large manufacturing base that comprises a sizeable 11.3% proportion of total employment[3] and the coalition will defend its record on apprenticeship creation. The Conservatives will seek to retain a narrative on the economy, especially in the more prosperous rural constituencies however wages in the metropolitan conurbation area have decreased by 11.2% between 2010 and 2014. The perceived impact of immigration upon wages at the lower end of labour market will be a considerable issue in some constituencies. HS2 has divided opinion in the region. Some have been concerned about being on the route and the costs, whilst land has recently been freed up after protest from MPs at Washwood Heath to create more jobs than had been originally promised under the HS2 depot.

Devolution- Both national parties have been making overtures to the region about devolution such as Lord Hestletine speaking to the Birmingham Post. However, this would require a combined authority and Solihull and Coventry are currently reticent. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have suggested that they would devolve £30 billion centralised spending to the regions and would have 9 regional ministries.



Birmingham Northfield (2,782) Numerical ordering would put leafy Birmingham Edgbaston (majority 1,274) before Birmingham Northfield (2,782) in terms of marginal seats. Yet a leaked non-target list from CCHQ suggests that this is not a target seat. However, the veracity of this list may be questionable because of the inclusion of seats such as Cannock Chase and Dudley South. Nevertheless, Edgbaston constituency has the independently minded constituency MP Gisela Stuart who has a strong personal following and has a history of defying national swings.

Instead the Conservative Party are channelling central resources into Birmingham Northfield, a largely white working class constituency and part of their 40/40 campaign. The seat has shown resilience in the closure of MG Rover at Longbridge in 2005. The campaign being fought by Labour is based upon Richard Burden’s track record as a locally focused MP and the work in supporting many Rover workers back into employment and training. Electoral calculus gives  Labour a 78% chance of victory. It will be interesting to see where the 6550 Lib Dem votes go, if anywhere.

Newcastle- Under- Lyme (Lab 1552) This seat has been Labour since 1922 when Josiah Wedgwood joined the party but Paul Farrelly’s majority in 2010 was significantly reduced when UKIP picked up 8% of the share of the vote and the Conservatives increased their share by 9.4%. The Conservative PPC Farrelly is against is Tony Cox, a local engineer. Electoral Calculus suggests a 71% chance of Labour holding the seat.

Solihull (Lib Dem 175) Liberal Democrat Lorely Burt is familiar with fighting slim majorities after winning Solihull from the Tories after 60 years of rule in 2005 with a 279 majority. The seat is affluent and is home to Jaguar Land Rover. It has the highest rates of owner-occupier in the country and has a well above average turnout (70.8%). The Green PPC is a defector from the Lib Dems. The Greens have won seats on Solihull council and are the second largest party. Electoral Calculus predicts a 71% chance of a Conservative gain and 15% Lib Dem hold.

Telford (Lab 981) David Wright (Lab) has been the MP since 2001 and will face PPC Lucy Allan. The seat has been receiving regular visits from Senior Conservatives who seem to be buoyant about the win and it remains the only Labour stronghold in the county. There is a growing IT sector in the constituency and major employers include CapGemini, EDS and Fujitsu. Electoral calculus predicts a Labour hold with 42% of the vote. Lord Ashcroft predicts a Labour hold with a 7% swing from Conservative to Labour.

Walsall North (Lab 990) David Winnick, MP since 1979, will be defending the seat against Douglas Hansen-Luke (Con). Electoral calculus predicts a safe Labour win with 40.7% of the vote. Lord Ashcroft’s poll from May 2014 (at the time of the European and Local elections), showed that Labour had 37% support from respondents and UKIP had 30%.


Birmingham Yardley (Lib Dem 3002) John Hemming who replaced Estelle Morris as MP in 2005 will face PPC Councillor Jess Phillips (Lab). Lord Ashcroft’s pollfrom November 2014 suggests that the gap is closing between Phillips and Hemming and Electoral Calculus predicts a Labour victory. Phillips’ campaign has great momentum. She has been animating local students with enviable energy but the wards of Acocks Green, Sheldon, Stetchford and North Yardley and South Yardley wards still have considerable Lib Dem support and so Hemming who has an incumbency advantage may just edge ahead.

Cannock Chase (Con 3195) Created in 1997, Cannock Chase constituency isDr Tony Wright’s old stomping ground. The seat went Conservative in 2010 with a 14% swing, the highest pro-Conservative swing in the country. Outgoing MP Aiden Burley is stepping down after organising a controversial Nazi stag-party and left the constituency with a contentious valedictory speech. Electoral Calculus predicts a Labour gain with a 50% chance but DrMatthew Goodwin and Dr Robert Ford have placed Cannock Chase in the top ten UKIP friendly seats . UKIP are the main Opposition on Cannock Chase Council. Deputy UKIP Leader Paul Nuttall suggested that UKIP would be going ‘hell for leather’ for the seat. Lord Ashcroft’s poll from October 2014 suggest that 32% and 30% Labour and UKIP respectfully.

Dudley South (Con 3856) Chris Kelly (Con) a former researcher for Michael Howard, is stepping down and local councillor Mike Green is standing in to defend a Conservative majority. UKIP may split the Conservative vote since received more than 8% of the share of the vote in 2010. Electoral calculus whose forecasts has been quite favourable to Labour, predicts a Conservative hold within the seat with 38.1% of the vote compared to Labour’s predicted 35.7% share.

Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Con 2023) James Morris (Con) is up against Stephanie Peacock (Lab). This seat will be won on a knife edge by either party. Lord Ashcroft’spoll for March 2015 suggests Labour 39% support and Conservatives 37% support. Electoral calculus predicts a labour gain only with a 55% chance though.

North Warwickshire (Con 54) North Warwickshire is Labour’s top target seat in the region.The Conservatives are defending a paper thin majority, the smallest majority in Britain in a seat that was Frances Maude’s in the 1980s. The outgoing MP, Dan Byles is stepping down so the Conservatives will lose an incumbent advantage. Mike O’Brian (Lab MP from 1992-2010) is standing again against Craig Tracey (Con) and William Cash (UKIP), the son of Eurosceptic Conservative MP Bill Cash. Electoral calculuspredicts a Labour gain with 64% chance of winning. Lord Ashcroft’s poll suggests that Labour have a comfortable 41% support but UKIP’s support has increased to 22%.

Nuneaton (Con 2069) Marcus Jones (Con) faces Vicky Fowler (Lab). Electoral calculus predicts a Labour gain with 40% of the vote to the Conservatives’ 36.4%. Lord Ashcroft’s poll from March 2015 finds a 5% swing from Conservatives to Labour.

Warwick and Leamington (Con 3856) Victory in Warwick and Leamington comprised a ‘Portillo moment’ by Labour in 1997 ending 67 years of Conservative hold. Electoral calculus predicts a Labour win, whereasLord Ashcroft predicts a moderate Conservative win against Labour PPC Lynette Kelly.

Wolverhampton South West (Con 691) Paul Uppal, defending the same majority as Enoch Powell’s in 1950 faces the previous Labour MP Rob Marris. The inner city wards of Wolverhampton South West favour Labour the Conservatives rely on their core vote in Tettenal, Wittick and Tettenal Regis. Electoral calculuspredicts a Labour win with 63% chance.

Worcester (Con 2982) This seat has huge resonance for Labour. It has graced British Politics with the awkward essentialism of the ‘Worcester woman’. Labour had never represented the seat until 1997.Electoral calculus predicts a Labour gain, but Lord Ashcroft’s poll from March 2015 suggests that the Conservatives may hold the seat.


Dudley North (Lab 649) The seat was created in 1997 and has always been Labour but in 2010 Ian Austin held a reduced majority with UKIP polling 9% of the vote. Unemployment is significantly above national average in this constituency. Austin faces Bill Etheridge the local MEP. Austin is widely respected and has been shoring up his vote by being vocal about concerns about the EU in Parliament. Lord Ashcroft’s pollputs Labour and UKIP almost neck and neck with 37 and 34 respectively but an Election calculus poll puts Labour with 67% chance of winning. This was a seat central to the Conservative’s 40/40 campaign until Conservative PPC Afzal Amin became embroiled in controversial discussion with the EDL.


The Labour Party is leading a more offensive campaign in this region. Electoral calculus polling has produced favourable outcomes for Labour and if such polling stands, they are set to regain North Warwickshire, Halesowen and Rowley Regis and Wolverhampton South West amongst other seats, but Labour will have to work hard to defend precarious majorities in their own seats. Furthermore, to bear fruit nationally I agree with Waller[4], that, Labour will need to extend a broader appeal beyond the Birmingham conurbation to non-traditional seats such as Worcester and Warwick and Leamington: game-changers that sent a Labour government in 1997 but went Conservative in 2010.

Labour should heed the message from the local election results in 2014 that indicated that UKIP were not just a threat to the Conservatives. The May 2014 European Election results increased the UKIP MEPs in the region from 2/7 in 2009 to 3/7 and received 31.49% of the vote. It is uncertain how far the UKIP momentum will keep going and whether their buoyancy in the locals was because they coincided with the European elections. My hunch is that the West Midlands could be Labour’s fight for the taking but it will be an incredible uphill struggle.


[1] Harari, D Unemployment: Regional, House of Commons Library Standard note: SN02798 18th March 2015

[2] Mirza-Davies J NEET: Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training, House of Commons Library Standard note: SN/EP/06705, 26th February 2015

[3]Rhodes, C Manufacturing: Statistics and Policy, House of Commons Library Standard note: SN/EP/1942, 13th Nov 2014

[4] Waller, R (2015): ‘The West Midlands Region’ in Dale I, Callus G, Hamilton D and R Waller (eds), The Politicos Guide to the 2015 General Election, London: Biteback Publishing

Electoral Calculus predictions correct as of 11th April 2015

About the Authors

Cherry Bio PhotoCherry Miller is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham. Her research looks into the performance of gender in the UK Parliament. Her Twitter handle is @cherrymmiller and email address

For further forecasts of the 2015 General Election see

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Seventh Annual POLSIS Postgraduate Colloquium

Please read below- an exciting event in the University of Birmingham’s POLSIS department.


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The cyber threat to the United Kingdom

GavGavin E L Hall is a Doctoral Researcher in the Department of Political Science & International Studies at the University of Birmingham. His main focus of research NATO’s role in the broadening security environment, especially cyber-security.  You can follow him on twitter @GavinELHall.

When the new government takes office in May 2015 one of the first tasks will be to initiate a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

The SDSR of 2010 introduced four Tier 1 threats to the United Kingdom. For the first time, threats emanating from both state and non-state actors in cyberspace were classified as a direct threat to the national security of the UK. Thus, in 2011 the UK Cyber Security Strategy was launched, and an update is likely to follow in 2016/17.

We will focus here on two aspects: the threat of cyber-attack and the threat of a cyber-incident.

Significant debate exists around issues of taxonomy within cyberspace, though the notion of an attack implies the use of violence and the ability to cause physical damage, whether to a human, a machine or infrastructure.

Any number of ‘what if’ scenarios exist and our impending doom might seem assured. However, intent and capability are not synonymous, and the actual potential for damage is largely overstated. Only three events in cyberspace can claim to have actually caused physical damage, and no human has ever died directly from such an event.

Operation Orchard in 2007 saw the Syrian radar station at Tall al-Abuad go offline, possibly via a kill-switch embedded in the software by the manufacturer, which allowed Israeli bombers to fly undetected and destroy the Deir ez-Zor nuclear reactor construction site. Whether this is a cyber-attack or not is hotly debated due to the time delay between the cyber-action and the damage caused.

In December 2014, the German IT Security Situation report highlighted an event at a metal foundry where a ‘cyber-attack’ had gained access to the plant’s control systems. As a result, a blast furnace was unable to be shut down, and an explosion occurred. Whether this was the intention behind the cyber-attack remains unclear and provokes debate on the nature of intent required to commit an act of violence, especially in the legal sense.

The standard illustration of a cyber-attack is the Stuxnet incident in Iran in 2010. A complex operation was launched that led to an engineer at the plant unwittingly installing a virus into the control system that caused the centrifuges at the nuclear processing plant at Natanz to spin in an unpredictable manner.

Initial claims suggested that the centrifuges were destroyed directly – however, Dmitri Alperovitch has recently argued that the Iranians actually destroyed the centrifuges themselves, as they believed them to be faulty. Like Operation Orchard, the time delay and role of direct destruction may well mean that not a single true cyber-attack has ever actually occurred.

The citizens of the UK, as well as companies, have experienced a number of cyber-incidents. However, the present language of the debate ensures that the problem remains within the framework of the military and the nation-state.

The yearly data breach reports from Verizon continually highlight that over 85% of cyber-incidents could be prevented by ensuring adequate passwords are set and that software has been updated to the latest model. Furthermore, a number of incidents require the user to have handed over information willingly, admittedly usually via duping.

In reality, the UK is vulnerable to cyber-incidents and a significant factor in this is the lack of effort the government has made to adequately pursue the premise behind Objectives 3 and 4 of the Cyber Security Strategy: to provide education for the populous to enhance security by knowledge.

A more informed public with clear information provided free of hyperbole and threat-inflation would provide the single biggest boost to cyber security.

The threat of cyber warfare and cyber-attack is severely overstated, as such an event would not take place in a political vacuum or indeed be possible to achieve. Hostile actions in cyberspace would almost certainly accompany traditional forms of conflict, such as used by Russia against Georgia, in 2008, and Ukraine. Therefore, the threat can be mitigated via traditional means of diplomacy and deterrence, and no specific vulnerability to a cyber-attack can be ascertained.

First Published on The Birmingham Brief 05/02/15

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Gender & the Research Excellence Framework: An Analysis of the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment (II)

by Fran Amery, Stephen Bates & Steve McKay

This is the second of two posts on gender and the Research Excellence Framework (you may also be interested in this post on what titles of outputs submitted to the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment tell us about (sub-)disciplinary trends).

In our first post, we used the REF submissions data in order to offer a new ‘survey’ of political scientists. We looked at the ratio of men to women across different universities, and with different levels of seniority. In this post, we focus more on the outcomes of the REF and, in particular, the association between the outcomes and the proportion of men and women in each submission.

Sizes of Submissions

The distribution by size of staff is quite skewed: half the institutions submitted to the REF contained one-quarter of the staff, while just the five largest submissions (KCL, Oxford, LSE, Warwick and Birmingham) also contained one-quarter of the staff. As can be seen in Table 1, there is therefore no apparent link between the size of submissions and the proportion of women included. So, for example, looking at this overall scale, it is not the case that women seem to be clustered in smaller submissions. This is important because, on average, smaller submissions tended to achieve lower overall results.

Table 1: Size Distribution

Table 2

Larger submissions tended to do relatively well, although not all those doing well were large. Figure 1 shows the association between size (and intensity as measured by HEFCE/HESA) and the overall GPA awarded. The size of each point on the graph reflects the size of the submission. The red points are those submitting 84% or more of their eligible staff – dividing the submissions into two groups – with the blue points submitting less than that. We have named the larger and higher achieving submissions in the chart.

Figure 1: Association between Submission Size & Grade Point Average


Unlike the 2008 RAE, it is not possible to link individual academics to particular publications (a bit annoying from our perspective). Instead, at the moment at least, we must rely on a more ‘ecological’ approach by looking at totals within each institution and their REF profiles.

Seniority & Outcomes

As can be seen in Figure 2, having more professors on the staff seemed to be linked to better overall outcomes (again the size of each point on the graph reflects the size of the submission).

Figure 2: Association between Grade Point Average & Professorial Rate


A simple ‘fit line’ is shown, but in reality the fit to the data is relatively weak. The r-squared is 20%, most of the points below the line are the smallest submissions, and the larger submissions mostly stand above the line (i.e. they do ‘better’ than the mere proportion of professors would suggest).

Women & Overall Outcomes

There is a very weak negative correlation between the proportion of women and the outcomes in terms of overall GPA (see Figure 3, r-sq=9%), but again this is not particularly informative as it stands. Once one small submission with a high female proportion is excluded there is no longer a statistically significant association between gender ratio and GPAs.

Figure 3: Association between GPA & Proportion of Women Submitted


Women & Types of Output

Having more women was slightly associated with a smaller proportion of books as outputs (see Figure 4). Even so, different institutions seem to have quite different proportions of books, even for the larger and better-rated submissions.

Figure 4: Association between Women & Proportion of Books


Models of Overall Outcomes

In a multiple linear regression of the overall GPA, higher results were associated with avoiding chapters and edited books as outcomes, having fewer lecturers as a proportion of staff, and having more staff. The gender ratio was not statistically significant in such models.

Observations & Conclusions (with some being More Tentative than Others)

  • Submissions with more professors tended to score more highly, ignoring other factors.
  • Books were, on average, more likely to be rated as 4* outputs than other kinds of outputs, followed by journal articles (as explicitly stated in the REF Politics panel overview report).
  • There was a weak negative association between women and the proportion of books submitted. However, it must be stressed that the emphasis here is on ‘weak’, and data at an individual level (on outputs) would be more informative than the ecological data being used in this post. It is hoped that future work will allow us to focus on the individual level so that we have a better picture of what, if anything, is going on in this regard.
  • It is highly plausible that any link between gender and outcomes is being driven by differences in seniority and possibly also by differences in publications profile (i.e. the extent to which men and women are more or less likely to publish monographs, articles, chapters, etc). This is hopefully what our future work will be able to tell us so please watch this space.

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Gender & the Research Excellence Framework: An Analysis of the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment (I)

Ever wondered about the gendered dimensions of the REF returns and rankings for the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment? Well wonder no longer.

by Fran Amery, Stephen Bates & Steve McKay

1320 people were submitted to the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment of REF 2014. Of these, 929 were men, 387 were women with 4 not known*. This means that, excluding not knowns, 29.4% of those submitted to the REF were female, a slightly lower percentage than the percentage of UK-based female political scientists in Bates et al.‘s 2011 survey of the profession (see Table 1).

Table 1: Number & percentage of male & female political scientists submitted to REF 2014 & in 2011 Survey

Male Female Overall2

Tables 2 and 3 show breakdowns of these statistics in terms of job title and gender**.

Table 2: Numbers of Male & Female Political Scientists by Job Title and in Total, 2011 Survey & 2014 REF (% in Brackets)

M & F by Job Title

Table 3: Job title by number of male or female political scientists and in total, 2011 Survey & 2014 REF (% in bracket)

Job Title by M&F

These figures suggest that the reason why the percentage of female political scientists submitted to the REF was lower than the 2011 survey is because women are more likely to occupy positions that meant they were unable to be submitted (e.g. they were teaching fellows, etc.), rather than because they were less likely to be chosen. The figures also appear to show that there has been an increase in the number of female professors since 2011 but that there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the number of male professors. 65 female and 369 male professors were recorded in the 2011 Survey; 87 female and 361 male were submitted to the 2014 REF. This means that 19% of professors submitted to the REF were female (compared to 15% of professors recorded in the 2011 Survey).

It is also perhaps interesting to note the figures for institutions which have moved towards using the more US-leaning titles of Assistant and Associate Professors, rather than Lecturers and Senior Lecturers (the figures are included in the equivalent job category in the Tables above). While numbers are small, some 87% of assistant professors were male (much higher than for lecturers), as were 65% of associate professors (about the same ratio as for senior lecturers).

In terms of individual institutions, the institutions which submitted the highest percentage of female political scientists to the REF (although sometimes with a small total number of people submitted) were: St Mary’s University College; Lincoln; Oxford Brookes; and Surrey. The institutions which submitted the lowest percentage of female political scientists were: Cardiff; Robert Gordon (both of which submitted no female political scientists); Essex; and Swansea (see Table 4).

Table 4: Number & percentage of female returnees to the REF by institution

Percentage & Number of REF Female by Institution

Of those institutions for which we had both sets of data (n=53), 9% submitted the same percentage of female political scientists as the percentage recorded in the 2011 survey (highlighted in green), 45% submitted a greater percentage (yellow), and 45% submitted a lower percentage (blue; see Table 5).

Table 5: Comparison of 2011 survey & 2014 REF in terms of % female political scientists

Comparison 2011 & 2014 by institution 1 Comparison 2011 & 2014 by institution 2

Table 6 shows a ranking of institutions in terms of the Seniority Sex Gap (SSG)^ for those scholars returned to the REF. A positive rating means the average female political scientist is more senior than the average male political scientist; a negative rating means the opposite. It shows that, taking all institutions into account, the average female political scientist returned to the REF holds a position just under a third lower than their male counterpart does. On this rating mechanism, the average male political scientist has a seniority rating of 3.07 (just over a senior lecturer/reader), while the average female political scientist has a seniority rating of 2.73 (just over a quarter under a senior lecturer/reader).

Table 6: Seniority Sex Gap by Institution

Seniority Sex Gap by Institution

This is the first of two blog posts on gender & the REF. The next one will look at the various rankings of the REF.

* Data on the gender and job title of the person submitted to the REF was collected using websearches of university and other relevant websites. This data was collected between the 1st and 6th February 2015 which means that the job title recorded may be different to when the person was submitted to the REF. Thanks to Darcy Luke for collecting this data.

** All the following figures excludes the not knowns.

^ The average seniority for male and female political scientists is produced by, first, giving a weighting to each category of job title (1 = Teaching/Research Fellow, or equivalent; 2 = Lecturer/Senior Research Fellow, or equivalent; 3 = Senior Lecturer/Reader, or equivalent; and 4 = Professor, or equivalent). The sums of each weighting multiplied by the number of male or female political scientists in the corresponding category of job title is then divided by the total number of male or female political scientists to produce a rating for both female and male political scientists. It is not possible to offer comparisons with the findings of the 2011 survey because a slightly different methodology was used to produce the figures for the REF.


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