I'll leave - how's that for impact?

UCU poll finds Government's agenda has scholars thinking of a career abroad. Zoë Corbyn reports

January 7, 2010

A survey of almost 600 professors by the University and College Union has found that a significant proportion would consider moving abroad to pursue their academic careers as a result of the Government's drive to measure and reward the "impact" of research.

The poll, which was sent to all professors on the UCU membership list, aimed to assess the extent to which academics anticipate behavioural changes in their departments.

The research councils have already introduced a requirement that academics outline the potential economic impact of their work when applying for grants, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England has proposed that impact should account for a 25 per cent weighting in the forthcoming research excellence framework. It will be used to distribute about £1.5 billion in quality-related research funding each year in England.

Of the 589 self-selecting professors who responded to the UCU poll, 200 (34.5 per cent) say they would contemplate leaving the country to escape the plans. A further 63 - about 11 per cent of respondents - say they do not know whether they would consider moving abroad, while 55 per cent say leaving is not on their minds. About one in five respondents (1 professors) say they know someone who is thinking of a move abroad as a direct result of the impact agenda.

Commenting on the findings, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said Britain "should be working hard to attract the finest minds, not implementing new rules that will drive them away".

Just over 400 of the professors - 69 per cent - say they do not support the impact drive, compared with per cent who are in favour of it.

Other results show that 72 per cent (424 respondents) expect the agenda to change departmental policies and practices; 65 per cent (377 respondents) expect it to alter the focus and practice of research; and 49 per cent (288 respondents) expect it to influence hiring and firing in their universities.

The professors contacted were also asked to comment on specific changes in their working environments, both positive and negative, that they expected as a result of the agenda. However, Times Higher Education has not been able to report on their comments because the UCU did not reveal the full results.

The survey was criticised by Patrick Dunleavy, professor of political science and public policy at the London School of Economics, who has argued for impact to be measured. He said there were a number of ways in which the academy could benefit from the impact agenda, including improving the relative status of applied research compared with pure research.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

Update

Responding to the UCU poll on 7 January, a spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England said: “Following a widespread consultation, responses show substantial support for the research excellence framework proposals.

“Institutions support the inclusion in the assessment of a consideration of the impact from their portfolios of work, while recognising that individual academics will not be assessed on the basis of the impact of their publications, projects and programmes.

“Far from constraining individual academics, these proposals will recognise and reward work of all kinds, taking account of previous criticisms that research achievement was too narrowly defined under the old arrangements

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