There has been much debate about this element of the REF proposals. Nobel laureates have raised objections. The Russell Group have stated that they are “broadly supportive of introducing a measure of the economic and social impact of research, provided that this is underpinned by a robust methodology which commands the confidence of the academic community”. A petition against the use of research impact in the allocation of funding has been created on the No. 10 website. An earlier petition, set up in June 2009, before the REF proposals were published, opposed the imposition of impact statements which funding councils now often require as part of a grant application; and knowledge transfer staff in universities have complained that they are being swamped with requests to write these “impact statements”.
Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and David Sweeney, Director of Research & Innovation at HEefce, have both indicated that research funding is limited and that there is a need to evaluate the impact of research. The policy context they cite is the Science & Innovation Investment Framework, 2004-14. There is a need, say Hefce, to “strengthen links between investment in research and the economic and social benefits it delivers”. The same message is to be found in the Research Councils Economic Impact Group’s 2006 paper, Increasing the Economic Impact of the Research Councils.
HEFCE has set out proposed methods for evaluating impact and is running a pilot exercise. The methodology to be employed in evaluating research impact, seems similar to that proposed for the now defunct Australian RQF exercise. The Australian top 8 research intensive universities opposed impact evaluation, which they felt would be overly bureaucratic and time-consuming. On the other hand, universities represented by the Australian Tehnology Network, were supportive of the proposals. The ATN produced an interesting brief report based upon their experience of the Australian research impact pilot exercise. It discusses methodology, and case study examples.
Here in the UK, UNICO, the Knowledge Transfer professionals’ organisation, have proposed the development of a metrics system to measure the impact of UK publicly funded research. These metrics, they suggest, could be used in attracting industry funding for research and to encourage international research collaborations with universities and with industry.