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Harnessing science and securing societal impacts from publicly funded research: reflections on UK science policy

Authors
Disciplines
  • Education
  • Law
  • Political Science

Abstract

a42440 515..523 Harnessing science and securing societal impacts from publicly funded research: reflections on UK science policy Far-reaching changes are underway to the public funding and government steering of science in the UK. In order to `` [r]eward and encourage HEIs [higher education institutions] that deliver benefits to business, the economy and society'', the UK Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFCE, 2009, paragraph 15) are proposing to take explicit account of `research impact' when allocating future research funding under the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The financial stakes are enormous. The REF is to succeed the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), whose rankings provided the basis for allocating some »1.65 billion in quality-related research funding to UK universities in 2007/08 (HESA, 2009). In much the same vein the UK research councils announced, in January 2009, that they would henceforth require all applicants for research funding to provide `impact summaries' explaining who would benefit from the proposed research and how. The new requirements are a direct response to a recommendation of the Warry Report (2006) on Increasing the Economic Impacts of Research Councils, commissioned by the UK government's Department for Trade and Industry. Whereas societal impact has long been an explicit criterion for peer review at the US National Science Foundation, this explicit emphasis on `impact' is a comparatively new development in UK science policy, and it has prompted some strong criticism from the UK science and research community. A group of twenty eminent scientists signed a letter of protest, published in the influential Times Higher Education, com- plaining about these and other bureaucratic burdens and the threats they pose to basic research and to British scientific excellence (Braben et al, 2009; Corbyn, 2009a). A similar petition, including signatories from prominent Nobel laureates, is now being organized in opposition to the prominence given to `impact' in the

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