IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

‘Impact’ in the proposals for the UK's Research Excellence Framework: Shifting the boundaries of academic autonomy

Listed author(s):
  • Smith, Simon
  • Ward, Vicky
  • House, Allan
Registered author(s):

    Evaluation of university-based research already has a reasonably long tradition in the UK, but proposals to revise the framework for national evaluation aroused controversy in the academic community because they envisage assessing more explicitly than before the economic, social and cultural ‘impact’ of research as well as its scientific quality. Using data from the 2009 public consultation on the proposals for a Research Excellence Framework, this paper identifies three main lines of controversy: the threats to academic autonomy implied in the definition of expert review and the delimitation of reviewers, the scope for boundary-work in the construction of impact narratives and case studies, and the framing of knowledge translation by the stipulation that impact ‘builds on’ research. Given the behaviour-shaping effects of research evaluation, the paper demonstrates how the proposed changes could help embed impact considerations among the routine reflexive tools of university researchers and enhance rather than restrict academic autonomy at the level of research units. It also argues that the REF could constitute an important dialogical space for negotiating science–society relations in an era of increasing heteronomy between academia, state and industry. But the paper raises doubts about whether the proposed operationalisation of impact is adequate to evaluate the ways that research and knowledge translation are actually carried out.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Research Policy.

    Volume (Year): 40 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 10 ()
    Pages: 1369-1379

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:eee:respol:v:40:y:2011:i:10:p:1369-1379
    DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2011.05.026
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    in new window

    1. Linda Butler & Ian McAllister, 2009. "Metrics or Peer Review? Evaluating the 2001 UK Research Assessment Exercise in Political Science," Political Studies Review, Political Studies Association, vol. 7(1), pages 3-17.
    2. Katharine Barker, 2007. "The UK Research Assessment Exercise: the evolution of a national research evaluation system," Research Evaluation, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(1), pages 3-12, March.
    3. Claire Donovan, 2009. "Gradgrinding the Social Sciences: The Politics of Metrics of Political Science," Political Studies Review, Political Studies Association, vol. 7(1), pages 73-83.
    4. Grit Laudel, 2006. "Conclave in the Tower of Babel: how peers review interdisciplinary research proposals," Research Evaluation, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(1), pages 57-68, April.
    5. Loet Leydesdorff & Henry Etzkowitz, 1996. "Emergence of a Triple Helix of university—industry—government relations," Science and Public Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(5), pages 279-286, October.
    6. Heinze, Thomas & Shapira, Philip & Rogers, Juan D. & Senker, Jacqueline M., 2009. "Organizational and institutional influences on creativity in scientific research," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 610-623, May.
    7. Benner, Mats & Sandstrom, Ulf, 2000. "Institutionalizing the triple helix: research funding and norms in the academic system," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 291-301, February.
    8. Claire Donovan, 2007. "Introduction: Future pathways for science policy and research assessment: Metrics vs peer review, quality vs impact," Science and Public Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(8), pages 538-542, October.
    9. Linda Butler, 2007. "Assessing university research: A plea for a balanced approach," Science and Public Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(8), pages 565-574, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:respol:v:40:y:2011:i:10:p:1369-1379. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.