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The wealth of impacts of academic research for the benefit of the economy and society can now be assessed, described and rewarded, according to a report to the four UK higher education funding bodies published today (11 November). The report sets out the findings of expert panels that have been piloting ground-breaking proposals for assessing the positive impact of research. (Note 1)
Under the proposals, which were consulted on last year, assessment of the impact of academic research will play a significant part in the UK-wide quality assessment to be conducted as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014. Universities and higher education colleges will need to demonstrate the benefits of their research to society or to the economy in order to achieve the highest ratings. In the REF, case studies and selected supporting material will be assessed by expert panels with a membership drawn from practising researchers and research users.
The inclusion of impact in the REF is a major new element in research assessment, which is used to determine funding allocations, provide benchmarking of the quality of UK research, and demonstrate the value of investment in research. Although impact is now a major consideration in research assessment around the globe, the UK has been at the forefront in developing a workable method. Universities will need to demonstrate how their research, both curiosity-driven and applied, has delivered important benefits beyond the academic world.
The report concludes that this approach is workable, and identifies a number of areas where improvements to the model used in the pilot can be made. The four UK funding bodies will continue to work together, and with the academic community and other partners, during the coming months to produce a fully developed approach, suitable for use across all disciplines. (Note 2)
David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:
'I welcome the publication of this useful report. It will help HEFCE to develop the Research Excellence Framework, examining how recognition of the highest levels of research excellence can be combined with encouraging wider impact on society and the economy and showing how improvements can be made. I am particularly grateful to the academics who participated in the pilot study.'
David Sweeney, HEFCE Director for Research and Innovation, said:
'We are delighted with the outcome of this exercise, which shows we can assess the contribution that research makes to society. We believe in the powerful and beneficial impact that research has on society and economic development, but have not previously had the tools to demonstrate this. I am grateful to those who gave their time to the pilot exercise.'