Tag Archives: Impact assessment

Blue skies? Willets, the REF, Research Impact and Research Funding

Today, 9th July, the universities and science minister, David Willetts, in a speech to the Royal Institution, confirmed  that the REF is to be postponed for a year.  The problem with measuring economic impact of research would appear to be the primary reason. He has stressed the need to find a reliable measure of impact that would find consensus within the academic community. However, he also expressed the view that the significance of scientific research could not always be measured by its short-term economic impact, as with the unexpected benefits of blue skies research. “”The surprising paths which serendipity takes us down is a major reason why we need to think harder about impact.” Over the next year, the lessons of the pilot exercise and the experiences of other countries (e.g. Star Metrics in the USA) will be drawn upon.

Willetts rejected the previous government’s thinking on funding of scientific research and innovation.

You’re supposed to put money into university-based scientific research, which leads to patents and then spinout companies that secure venture capital backing. The mature business provides tax revenues for the Government, jobs for the local area, a nice profit for the university.

Yet, he said, on average only 3% of university income ever came from commercialisation of  intellectual property.

There were better ways of “harvesting the benefits from research”. Amongst these he said he favoured “clusters”, which he defined as “low-risk environment for high-risk activity”, citing the example of computer games and media companies based around Abertay University.

Government backing for research does make economic sense, he said, and the Research Councils’ funding of scientific research was effective in “generating wider benefits across the economy as a whole”. There may be cuts ahead, but essentially the dual funding system was working and he supported the Haldane principle.

In terms of his own thinking on policy for supporting and developing the research base, he believes that:

  1. Publicly funded research facilities ( Government support for “shared facilities – research platforms if you like – which private companies could not develop on their own”)
  2. Public procurement contracts given to innovative SMEs (“A purchasing contract can be as effective a way to get money to an innovative small business as a grant or a capital investment: this is particularly important at times when banks are so reluctant to lend.”
  3. Public competitions for new technologies (“And it need not be Government which sets the prize or the challenge – it can happen in marketplaces on the web too.”)

You can read the speech in full on the BIS website or read reports from THE & The Engineer.

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REF postponed

THE report that David Willetts will announce on 9th July that the Research Excellence Framework will be postponed for a year. The reason for postponement seems to be due to doubts about the effectiveness of measuring social, economic and cultural impact of research. He is reported to have said the need is for a measure of impact that is “methodoligically sound and that commands the assent of the academic community”. You can read the full article at the THE website.

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Shadow Minister for Science & Innovation on REF & Impact

In a recent Q&A on eGov monitor , the Shadow Minister For Science And Innovation, Adam Afriyie, said that he understood why researchers felt frustrated. He said that he wants to “work towards a clearer definition of the Haldane Principle” in order to preserve the independence of researchers and “blue skies research”.

As to the REF, he said that his party, if elected, would “would postpone the Research Excellence Framework to ensure we are defining, measuring and applying impact correctly”.

You can read the full Q&A at http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/33680

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The trouble with research impact

An interesting piece from Mark Henderson, on the Times Online website.  Lord Drayson, Science Minister, was defending the case for research impact to young researchers opposed to its introduction in the REF. .” Lord Drayson argued that if science and academia are to continue to claim significant public funding, they have to do a better job of explaining its benefits — not least to make the case to an often sceptical Treasury on the look-out for easy cuts.”  Meanwhile, at the Royal Society, Henderson tells us that Lord Rees was making an eloquent case against the impact agenda, saying that: “There’s a risk that current efforts to prioritise and ‘audit’ academic research will backfire, by eroding the strength of our universities and thereby weakening the UK’s competitiveness as a high-tech nation.” Read the article online and watch the debate with Lord Drayson online at the THES.

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Research Impact Assessment – Examples from RAND Europe

Since RAND Europe have now produced their report for HEFCE on international practices in assessing the impact of research, it may be a good time to also point out some of the work that RAND has been doing in this area and to look at examples of their work in assessing research impact for a range of various international clients. Those who are interested can follow this link to the RAND website.

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HEFCE publishes RAND Europe report on Research Impact Methodologies

News that HEFCE have just published Capturing Research Impacts: A review of international practice is of particular interest for Swansea University since we will be participating in the HEFCE Pilot Exercise on Research Impact.

This is the report Hefce commissioned from RAND Europe to bring together knowledge gained from international experiences in assessing research impact. The review will help inform development of this new aspect of the REF.  Notably, the review “suggests that the work of the Australian RQF Working Group on Impact Assessment might provide a basis for developing an approach to impact in the REF”. (See previous entries on this blog regarding the RQF.)

RAND Europe has already established experience in this area. See for example, Exploring the impact of arthritis research

Full report and executive summary are available at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rdreports/2009/rd23_09/

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Research Impact – debate, policy, methods

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.

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