Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are a unit that has to participate in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and be assessed on the basis of the quality of their performance, social and economic impact, and high-profile environment. During the assessment, their achievements are returned to an assessment panel that passes the judgement and allocates resources accordingly.
Ideally, any unit should be 100% returnable, but there is no point in returning people with less than three or four-star achievements. Therefore the unit starts with a pilot case, returning first Lucy and then Edmund, before embarking on a full-scale project. Edmund almost ruins the whole enterprise as he gets tempting proposals from a rival institution, but the assessment panel gracefully pardons the culprit in view of prospective expansion. The unit has accomplished the tasks, demonstrated transferable skills, secured substantial external funding, and received international recognition in Archenland, Calormen and beyond.
Thus, in the first REF round, all the four unit members are successfully returned. In the next round, however, only two, Edmund and Lucy, are judged to be returnable, Peter’s brilliant performance notwithstanding. Academic life is more merciless than the White Witch. The unit has to recruit a new member, Eustace, who initially seems a burden rather than a bonus, but eventually proves fully returnable. The unit is now highly prosperous: the impact of globalisation following marine explorations, restored diplomatic missions and sustainable partnerships is hard to overestimate. Needless to say, the ecological implications of implanting domestic rodents in alien environment are taken into account. Yet sadly, outperformed by Eustace, Edmund and Lucy do not meet the three-star criteria and are made redundant. In accordance with equal opportunities, the new recruitment gives priority to the under-represented gender, so Jill joins Eustace for the next REF. Together, they manage to pull the unit through the scrutiny of the leonine assessment panel.
Meanwhile it transpires that in times immemorial, long before REF was invented, two members of the unit conducted their field work without proper risk assessment and completely ignoring BERA ethics regulations, which accounts for all subsequent failures, shortcomings and budget deficit. Trafficking and illegal fruit import are disclosed, but Polly and Digory manage to repair the damage, and although they are well beyond retirement age, every effort counts, and both are gratefully returned in the final and irreversible REF, together with Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace and Jill.
But poor Susan remains permanently unreturnable.