“The REF impact case studies should be seen as more than the product of an administrative exercise. They document the breadth of UK research across the sector and showcase its public value.”
The case studies present real-life tangible examples of the value of the research that UK universities are undertaking every day.
The public benefits are clear. They range from research which has led to safer and shorter treatment for thyroid cancer, to improving the sound and vibration of cars when idle in city traffic.
The case studies were collected for assessment purposes and they were clearly drafted with this in mind.
Universities have showcased their work in different and unsystematic ways. This can make extended analysis challenging, but a wide range of users are still exploiting their value.
Research administrators, and others involved in REF submissions, are exploring the types of impact and narrative style submitted by peer institutions, gathering data to inform a future assessment of impact.
The elements of good practice in the studies also mean that universities can use them to advance the impact of future research.
Naturally enough we also hear murmurs of frustration. Why, for example, does the database not link directly to the REF scores for individual case studies in order to identify and scrutinise 4* case studies?
The immediate answer is that we wanted to reduce incorrect scoring assumptions. The deeper point is that the database is more than a way of evaluating the REF. It is a rich repository of information about the extent and value of public research.
And this opens up a broader issue: should the impact agenda go beyond the criteria for assessment in the REF?
The studies represent just a selection of the impact that higher education research is having. Even so, they provide a useful starting point to tap into the value that such research has for the wider world.
This is borne out in the extent of interest in the studies and how they have been used.
We have launched a survey alongside the database to gather further information on its use. From it, we can see that where some users are looking to inform the development of their own impact data gathering, others are clearly interested to see the types of research impact documented.
It has also shown extensive international interest in the impact case studies among overseas universities.
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