REF 2021: WE GOT A 4*!

After a longer than usual wait, the results of the Research Exercise Framework 2021, otherwise known as REF 2021, have finally been made public, and we at the Wilberforce Institute are very proud of our success. We got a 4* rating, the highest level possible, for our impact case study, ‘The Wilberforce Legacy: Using historical and contemporary research to meet the challenge of Modern Slavery’.

For those of you who don’t know, the purposes of REF 2021 were threefold:

  • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
  • To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information.
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research. 

In short, the government uses the REF exercise to determine how much research funding each higher education institution will receive each year: the four UK higher education funding bodies use it to inform the allocation of circa £2 billion in public funding invested in research annually. The key facts about the REF are available here.

As a format the REF was last used to assess the quality of research in higher education institutions in 2014, so it’s been seven years since any assessment of this kind has been undertaken.  The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), a similar exercise which the REF replaced, had from its inception in 1986, taken place approximately once every five years. It had been introduced that year by Margaret Thatcher’s government to determine the amount of funding that was to be allocated to individual UK Universities at a time of tight budgetary restrictions.  A number of changes to the way in which research is assessed have been made over the years. This included the introduction in 2008 of a four-point quality rating scale, rising from 1* for ‘Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour’, to the much sought after 4*: ‘Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour’.

The REF involved a process of expert review, carried out by expert panels for 34 subject-based units of assessment (UOAs), under the guidance of four main panels. These expert panels consisted of senior academics, international members, and research users

Assessors had to review research from three distinct perspectives:

  • the quality of the outputs (e.g. publications, performances, and exhibitions)
  • their impact beyond academia, and
  • the quality of the environment that is provided to support research. 

Significantly, the REF was the first exercise to assess the impact of research outside the higher education sector itself. Impact was defined as ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’. This idea has rightly continued to gain traction: following on from a review of the effectiveness of REF 2014, more emphasis was placed in the 2021 round on the importance of impact. There was also a call for interdisciplinary collaborations to be more widely rewarded.

Both of these metrics play to the strengths of the Wilberforce Institute. First we are by design an interdisciplinary research institute, bringing together history, social science, heritage and law, as we seek to use an understanding of the past to inform our approach to the present. We also employ practitioners who work on issues around social auditing, on raising awareness of modern slavery, and on taking action to prevent it. This means that our interdisciplinary research can have a direct impact.

Despite our small team of people, the 4* rating of our impact case study revealed just how successful our efforts had been in the period covered by the REF exercise, 2014-2020. The study focused on two particular areas of success. The first concerned the quantification of slavery. The Institute had taken a key role in developing the metrics for the Global Slavery Index (GSI), which provided the first comprehensive and accessible measure of the extent of modern slavery in 167 countries around the world.

Aimed at informing practitioners and policymakers, the GSI was disseminated around the world, and has been used by governments, researchers, NGOs and charities to support the liberation of slaves and their reintegration into society. In addition, Professor Kevin Bales, lead author of the 2014 GSI, built on its success to develop (in collaboration with the Chief Scientific Officer at the Home Office) a new methodology for calculating modern slavery in the Britain. The Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) framework resulted in a radical reassessment by the UK Government of the number of people enslaved in Britain. That number – of between 10,000 and 13,000 men, women and children – was roughly four times the figure produced by the National Crime Agency’s Human Trafficking Centre in 2013. Taken together, the GSI and the MSE transformed our understanding of the prevalence of modern slavery in the UK. In doing so, it provided the impetus for a new British Government Modern Slavery Strategy and Bill, and paved the way for the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.

The second area of success concerned anti-slavery opinion building. Professor John Oldfield,  now Associate and Emeritus Professor of the Wilberforce Institute, was instrumental in developing the concept of an antislavery ‘usable past’ that demonstrated a continuous link between the past and the present, through what can be described as an active ‘protest memory’. He used these ideas to develop two Arts and Humanities Research Council funded projects, the web resource Stolen Lives and The Antislavery Usable Past. Together, the Institute’s interdisciplinary team developed new methods of presenting and disseminating information by juxtaposing the experiences of enslaved people from the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries in an easy to access format.  Between 2015 and 2021, the Stolen Lives website had 34,000 pageviews and 8,185 views of the ‘Repairing Broken Lives’ video resources.

Alongside Stolen Lives (2015) and the Antislavery Usable Past project (2019), the Institute designed and delivered a number of public campaigns to raise awareness of historical and modern slavery, using music, film, teaching aids, exhibitions and web resources.  These included the #HiddenInPlainSight campaign (launched in November 2016, which placed ‘human packaging’ at high-footfall locations), and the #BreakTheChain campaign (launched in London in 2018, using a ‘human vending machine’), which drew attention to the 25 million people trapped in forced labour around the world.

These opinion-building initiatives have been adopted by many key stakeholders and have directly informed national public broadcasting campaigns. Stolen Lives, for example, has raised awareness of slavery at over 60 different public events and its educational materials have been used in schools across the UK. This resource has also had international impact, most notably in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where it proved the inspiration for an exhibition on modern slavery at the National Museum of Sierra Leone in 2017, the first of its kind. Subsequently, the British Council in Sierra Leone, working in collaboration with the Institute, arranged for the translation of songs from Stolen Lives into local languages and used them as resources in its ‘Connecting Classrooms’ programme. To date this has reached over 30,000 students and helped to raise awareness of modern slavery in Sierra Leone. Finally, and importantly, the work of the Institute was shared with local schools and communities in the Humber region. Performances from Stolen Lives have also been held at Hull’s Freedom Festival which attracts audiences of over 130,000.

Academic research is always of its time, and the numbers estimated in the GSI and MSE were very soon out of date. Some of these numbers were included in the Stolen Lives project, so that here too, there is information that is no longer current. But other elements of Stolen Lives continue to have relevance. Reflecting recently on the impact of Stolen Lives seven years on, Professor Oldfield noted that although he would do some things differently now, much of the content in the collection remains as impactful as it did at its creation. You can of course judge for yourselves by visiting the website.

Professor Oldfield reflecting on the impact of Stolen Lives during the recent workshop, ‘Strategies for encouraging children and young people to engage with human rights’, held at the Wilberforce Institute on Thursday May 12, 2022.

Receiving a 4* rating for our impact case study ‘The Wilberforce Legacy: Using historical and contemporary research to meet the challenge of Modern Slavery’, is hugely satisfying, not least because it reveals to us that we can make a difference. But it also reminds us that there is always more to understand about the nature of slavery and exploitation, in the past and the present. Our success in REF 2021 will help us to continue that research. 

The Time Travel Adventures of Ara: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Channon Oyeniran

Vice President, Ontario Black History Society

and former postgraduate student of the University of Hull

channonc425@gmail.com

Four years…..that’s how long it took from the original idea of The Time Travel Adventures of Ara (TTAOA) being conceived, to it finally being released to the public. It was March 2018, and at the time I was working for one of the largest organizations in Canada, committed to enhancing the awareness of Canada’s history and citizenship. I was having a conversation with a former co-worker and friend, who said she could see me writing a children’s book. “A children’s book I thought to myself?” “Really” I said to my friend.

But as we continued talking, my mind started to race with ideas and immediately the concept of TTAOA came to mind. Not only did this current book come to mind, but a whole series of books dedicated to time travel, where my then two-year-old son would star as the protagonist of the series and where he would go back in time and meet iconic Black historical figures in different time periods. Not only would Ara learn more about Black history in Canada, but he would learn about Black history around the world!

After this conversation with my friend and former colleague, I immediately started a Google doc and got all the ideas that were racing through my mind written down. I remember the excitement I felt as I documented my ideas and thought to myself, “Could I really do this? Would people (especially children) like the concept of the book?” It’s not that I was new to the process of writing; in fact, my husband and I co-wrote and released a book titled, Live Love Learn Grow: A Collection of Quotes With Modern Day Paradigms For Appropriating Godly Values Into Our Lives And Businesses in April 2016. I also wrote a chapter in Transforming Lives One Story at a Time: Powerful Stories of Success & Inspiration that was released in September 2017. Also, I had watched my husband spend months writing and releasing his latest book, The Power of Vision: Principles and Practices to Help You Become Extraordinary. So indeed, I was not new to the writing and self-publishing process, but this was still a major project, and one that would rely solely on my expertise and knowledge in the subject of Black history.

With my ideas down on paper, and in my opinion, an amazing concept for book one of the series, I tried to set out some time to start writing. However, for me this process was not so easy! I had my two-year-old son, just started a new job, found out I was pregnant with my second son and had many other projects on the go. In the early part of 2019, I had recorded the first chapter of my manuscript but did not have the time to write down what I recorded.  So finally in September 2019, I enlisted the help of a close friend of my husband, who is an editor and publisher in Nigeria, and asked him to help me transcribe what I had recorded. He did this and honestly it was the push I needed to continue to write my manuscript despite the busyness of life. Fast forward to 2021 when I finally thought that I would be able to release my book that year. However, this was not to be. After a few setbacks on this book writing journey, I realized that it would finally be 2022 before book one of The Time Travel Adventures of Ara would be released.

It is a humbling experience to write a book. Throughout this process, I’ve been purposeful in making sure I am honouring and celebrating those whose lives I am writing about (e.g., Harriet Tubman). This journey has also been so fun and rewarding to watch my two sons Ara and Korede be excited about “mommy’s new book” and watch them get excited when looking at the illustrations within the book of themselves and mommy and daddy. That’s always been my main goal from the conception of this book, until now (and it will continue to be): to create stories and content for Black children and Black people to see themselves and to read about their history and read about who their ancestors were and the sacrifices they made.

Being a historian of Caribbean history, Black history in Canada and the history of Black enslavement (thanks to the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull!), it has always been important to me to share all the amazing stories about people of African descent that I learned about on my undergraduate and graduate journey with others, specifically the next generation. There is a gap in learning about all histories in the Canadian education system and I want to ensure that I am doing my part (whether it’s through this book series or my podcast; BlacktoCanada) to teach children about Black history not only in Canada, but around the world. I believe that if children have the opportunity to learn about different cultures and histories when they are young, then there will be more understanding and empathy and less racism and ignorance.

The Time Travel Adventures of Ara: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad can be purchased on:

  1. OyES: https://oyeseducation.org/shop/
  2. Amazon (worldwide)

The Impact of Covid-19 on Child Carers in the UK

Saphia Fleury

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk, #FallingThroughTheNet

There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK. These children already face huge responsibilities within their families and are at a higher risk of mental ill-health and lower educational attainment than their peers. Due to the nature of caring, it is likely that many of these children will be looking after a relative who is vulnerable to Covid-19. The lockdown and resulting economic downturn have put these children and their families at increased risk of vulnerability, including exploitation and abuse, and make it more difficult for them to realise their human rights.

Mental health impact
Research on mental health in the general population found that anxiety and depression spiked following the lockdown announcement in late March. Child carers are already at heightened risk of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, so may be considered extremely vulnerable to worsening mental health at this time.

Research on carers’ experiences, conducted in the early stages of the UK lockdown, found high levels of anxiety amongst carers. The mental pressure of isolation, not being able to see friends or go outside for a “breather”, plus the stress of supporting a family’s everyday needs in difficult circumstances, will inevitably increase during the lockdown period. This may be compounded if household income is reduced during or following the lockdown due to underemployment or austerity measures.

Food and other essential goods
In theory, supermarket delivery slots have been reserved for the most vulnerable. However, The Guardian newspaper found that “large numbers of disabled and older people are being excluded from the scheme due to the highly selective criteria”; these criteria may impact on child carers.  Penalties for shopping for fewer items, plus delivery charges, increase the overall cost of shopping online. Equally, delivery services rely on access to the internet, email and a credit or debit card, which young carers may not have. Poorer families are less likely to have been able to “stockpile” essentials at the start of the outbreak and may have subsequently struggled to buy basic goods. These issues are compounded for child carers, who are already more likely to experience poverty than other children.

Families on low incomes are disadvantaged by the rising cost of some items and the need to shop frequently for smaller amounts of goods. Children may be afraid to leave the house to shop in case they contract the virus and become ill themselves, or pass it to vulnerable members of their household.

While some carers noted that they were receiving practical and emotional support from their local community, this is ad hoc and cannot be counted on as a long-term solution. Due to stigma, fear, or lack of social networks, child carers may be less likely or able to seek practical support within the community.

Accessing healthcare
Despite government assurances that the NHS is still open for business, fear of contracting Covid-19 appears to be keeping people away from hospitals. Child carers face a difficult decision if they see a decline in the health of a relative, which may be compounded by long NHS 111 waiting times and the unavailability of face-to-face GP services. This responsibility is likely to put enormous strain on the mental health of the child carer, as well as putting the health and wellbeing of their family members at risk.

Education
Child carers’ education already suffers because of their caring responsibilities. Child carers miss an average of 48 days of school and may struggle to find time to concentrate on homework. In the absence of a parent or teacher to guide them, these children may see a further decline in their ability to learn. This will be compounded by additional stresses and highly time-consuming activities such as shopping for essentials (see above), brought on by the circumstances of the lockdown. In this way, child carers face a double-hit in terms of access to education.

Vulnerabilities
Child carers tend to be highly competent, organised and capable, often as a result of the skills they have acquired from their caring responsibilities. But they may also have mental or physical disabilities, be refugees or members of minority groups, experience child poverty or be the victims of exploitation or abuse.

Indeed, some of these characteristics may be exacerbated by the lockdown itself. Children who are driven further into poverty, mental ill-health and isolation by the lockdown situation may become more vulnerable to situations of exploitation and abuse. In the worst cases, these situations can manifest as sexual and economic exploitation, including forced criminality, which have serious long-term effects on the health and wellbeing of the child.

It is important to contemplate these intersecting sources of vulnerability when considering the impact of Covid-19 on child carers. Being forced by the lockdown to stay away from school, friends and the community at large may mean that children who are at risk may not be seen and offered support. Above all, despite their capabilities, they must still be considered as children, with all the rights and protections due to those under the age of 18.