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What is research impact?

What is research impact?

Impact from research is described as “the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy” (UK Research and Innovation definition) and further as, “the effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia” (Research England definition for Research Excellence Framework - REF).

This definition is distinct from the other impact a university may have, e.g. academic impact in terms of its publication profile and resulting research reputation, and also the impact of the institution as a whole, including economically, as a civic institution and as a learning provider.

In simple terms, impact is the benefits of research which take place outside the world of academia and can occur in many ways, for example: through creating and sharing new knowledge and innovation; inventing ground-breaking new products, companies and jobs; developing new and improving existing public services and policy; or enhancing quality of life and health.

Since 2009, the inclusion of impact has been a compulsory part of grant applications for the seven UK Research Councils. Impact was introduced to the REF in 2014 and thereby plays an important role in the mechanism by which quality-related research funding is awarded. In REF2021, impact plays an even greater role, counting for 25% of the overall assessment, alongside research outputs and the research environment.

Impact is therefore critical in:

  • determining the allocation of funding;
  • bolstering the funding councils’ case for continued government spending commitments to research;
  • holding universities accountable for the funding allocation that they receive.

In our current economic climate, where budgets are squeezed ever tighter, impact will continue to be an intrinsic element of publicly-funded university research and a measure of its value and benefits.

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