Prepare for impact, universities told

Hefce head says get set for REF by gathering evidence of how research pays off, Zoë Corbyn writes

June 29, 2009

Universities have been urged to start reviewing their research portfolios to assess the social and economic impact of their work in preparation for the forthcoming research excellence framework.

David Sweeney, the head of research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, set out further details of how impact will be judged under the research assessment exercise’s replacement.

Speaking at the Westminster Education Forum in London on 25 June, he said: “We want to encourage higher education institutions to review the portfolio of their work and ensure that they are going to be able to put forward a strong story about impact.

“We are interested in impact – a demonstrable, identifiable difference – that occurs during the assessment period.”

Hefce has already indicated that it will look at research impact on a departmental basis, based on a narrative backed by indicators and exemplars.

The first REF will assess impact made between 2008 and 2012, although the research itself may have been carried out earlier.

Mr Sweeney said various “principles” for impact assessment had been agreed with research councils – including consideration of “high-level skills”, “inward investment” and “new businesses”.

He said impact would “without exception” need to be underpinned by excellent “referenced” research. Before a piece of work would be considered, it would have to meet a “quality threshold” for excellence, he added.

The credit for the impact of a particular piece of research would not follow the academic, but would stay in the department where the work had been produced, Mr Sweeney said.

He also spoke about the difficulty of using metrics, which Hefce had originally planned to use in the REF to a greater degree than is now being planned, in assessment.

“We have established that we are not going to measure things… until there is more hard work done on metrics,” he said.

“We have seen some valiant efforts to quantify the impact [of research], all of which have so far failed and will continue to fail for some time, but we are on a learning process.”

Hefce is due to launch a consultation on its final plans later this year.

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