Traditionally in higher education, research impact has been aligned with bibliometric measures which capture elements of research productivity and research impact (i.e. number of publications and citations). However, such measurements do not tell the full story of how academic research is making contribution to the economic, environment and environment. How do we know through number of publications or number of citations that renowned research is benefiting individuals, organizations or even public policy making?
One important way, which has seen varying states of adoption worldwide, is by incorporating consideration of impact beyond academia into national assessments – frameworks that, depending on region, can play a critical role in determining the amount of funding an institution can receive.
REF (Research Excellence Framework)
There is no limitation to the types of impact that have been created by impact. Guidance from REF has highlighted 8 impact types which follow the PESTLE convention (Political, Economic, Societal, Technological, Legal, and Environmental), alongside 2 other impact types: Health and Cultural.
HEFCE explains, “Measuring impact provides insights into delivery, which helps to maximise the benefits of research. A better understanding of what has worked well in the past, alongside robust assessment of progress in ongoing research projects, enables researchers and research units to make adjustments and improvements for greater impact in the future”.
The UK’s research assessment exercise and its inclusion of research impact in REF 2014 provided a framework for other national research assessments to follow suit, most notably Australia’s EIA 2018 and Hong Kong’s RAE 2020.
Australia’s Engagement and Impact Assessment (EIA) took place in 2018 to assess academics and researchers’ engagement with the ‘end-user’ of research and how research create or have economic, environmental and social impacts. While the UK’s REF 2014 provided the blueprint of the EIA 2018, the Australian Research Council consulted both university and industry stakeholders on and conducted a pilot study before finalising the assessment.
The EIA 2018 focuses on two areas: Engagement and Impact. Engagement refers to ‘the interaction between researchers and research end-users outside of academia for the mutually beneficial transfer of knowledge, technologies, methods or resources’ (EIA 2018 Assessment Handbook). And Impact refers to ‘the contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment, or culture, beyond the contribution to academic research’.
When looking at REF 2014 and EIA 2018, the use of terminologies is different, but the essence is the same. The Australian Research Council says, the EIA and the impact case studies ‘provide insights into areas of strength across all disciplines. This information demonstrates the impact that research is having – from delivering cutting-edge technologies, supporting communities and their safety, to addressing some of the major challenges affecting society’ (Engagement & Impact Assessment 2018-19 National Report).
The latest Hong Kong Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) took place in 2020. Like the Australia’s EIA, Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee (UGC) consulted the higher education sector and other stakeholders on the RAE 2020 framework. The UGC mentioned, ‘The inclusion of impact is in line with a recommendation of the administration of recurrent grants for universities . . ., and an initiative announced in the 2017 Policy Address that research impact should be taken into account in the allocation of recurrent grants to universities” (Consultation on Proposed Framework for RAE 2020, UGC).
For RAE 2020, impact is defined ‘as the demonstrable contributions, beneficial effects, valuable changes or advantages that research qualitatively brings to the economic, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life whether locally, regionally or internationally; and that are beyond academia’ (RAE 2020 General Panel Guidelines).
Research impact can be defined as… the demonstrable contributions, beneficial effects, valuable changes or advantages that research qualitatively brings to the economic, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life whether locally, regionally or internationally; and that are beyond academia.
When are the next national assessments?
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