Report praises benefits of university research

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A new analysis of impact case studies from the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) shows that research carried out by the UK’s universities has wide and varied benefits to the economy, society, culture, policy, health, the environment and quality of life – both within the UK and overseas.

The analysis is published to coincide with the first national conference on REF 2014. It was carried out by Digital Science and King’s College London, and co-funded by the UK higher education funding bodies, Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust.

The REF impact case studies were produced as part of the ground-breaking assessment of research impact included in REF 2014. For the first time, universities participating in the UK’s national assessment of research quality were invited to provide examples of the wider impact of their research as part of their submissions.

This latest work has produced the REF impact case study database, a searchable tool enabling analysis and automated text mining of the case studies. The database will encourage and enable further analysis of the case studies by any interested parties in the UK and internationally.
Madeleine Atkins, chief executive of Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), said: ‘Following the outstanding success of the Research Excellence Framework, showing that UK research leads the world, this analysis shows that as well as being of the highest quality, the research that UK universities undertake has a very positive impact across all areas of the economy and society.

‘I urge research users to mine this rich source of information, which is now easily accessible, to make the most of the impact case studies. We and the other UK funding bodies will look closely at the findings of the reviews and consider carefully how the impact case study process can be further improved for the next REF’.

An initial synthetic analysis of the REF impact case studies has also been undertaken in a report ‘The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact’. Key findings include:

  • Over 80 per cent of the REF impact case studies included underpinning research from multiple disciplines;
  • The impact case studies were diverse and wide-ranging, with over 60 unique ‘impact topics’ identified;
  • The reported research impacts stemmed from research in a wide-range of subject areas, with over 3,700 unique pathways from research to impact identified; and
  • Research undertaken in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) has made a contribution to every country in the world.