Since research impact was first introduced as a component of assessment in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014, governments and institutions worldwide have adopted a wide variety of approaches to respond.
In the UK, where performance in the national assessment determines the amount of funding allocated to participating institutions from the REF during the 7-year cycle, the growth of research impact weighting from 20% in 2014 to 25% of the total score in 2021 was significant. As a result, universities and research institutes needed to apply further focus to demonstrating the social, environmental, economic and cultural impact of research.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, which adopted the UK’s REF model, impact first made an appearance in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2020, constituting 15% of the overall score for each institution.
These approaches are referred to as summative – evaluating performance retrospectively and benchmarking.
By contrast, other approaches can be seen as formative – providing ongoing feedback to continually optimise performance. One example of this is in the Netherlands, where the Strategy Evaluation Protocol (SEP) 2021-2027 examines performance, including impact in terms of societal relevance, over the course of the window. Crucially, unlike the UK and Hong Kong, this is not tied to funding.
In many instances, research impact strategies are still under consideration. Last year, Australia cancelled its upcoming Engagement and Impact Assessment (EIA) 2024, while the higher education sector undergoes a national review. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) agreed in principle to a set of suggestions that would include impact in the definition of research excellence – and therefore potentially introduce impact as an assessment criteria in the upcoming PBRF Quality Evaluation (QE) 2026.
You can learn more about some of the research impact strategies in play worldwide through our dedicated page.