From STEM to STEAM: Lessons from biomedical and health research

Professor Jonathan Grant

This blog post is an edited version of a speech given by Professor Jonathan Grant to The Culture Capital Exchange at St George’s House in Windsor Castle for a debate on the issue of excluding arts and humanities from the UK government’s ‘STEM’ research agenda. The full speech, and those of other invited speakers can be found on the Culture Capital Exchange website.
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A world of worth from UK international development research

Adam Kamenetzky, Research Fellow, and Dr Saba Hinrichs, Senior Research Fellow at the Policy Institute at King’s, discuss efforts to investigate the impact of international development research conducted at UK universities.

What is the impact of research carried out to support international development and humanitarian relief efforts? What are the social returns on investment from this research, outside of academia? And how do these non-academic benefits relate to the delivery of ‘front line’ aid?

Keen to examine these questions, we responded to a challenge from the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) to interrogate data on research impact submitted as part of the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise.

Unique in terms of its scale and setup, REF’s results dictate the allocation of approximately £1.6 billion of annual research funding across the UK’s universities. For the first time, one-fifth of the overall funding pot was determined on the basis of universities submitting case studies that described the non-academic impacts of their research (defined as any effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life’). Continue reading

Diversity of disciplines drives research impact

One of the central questions of research policy is how to organise and carry out research in order to maximise the benefits that derive from it. This question prompts heated debate. Should we prioritise basic research over applied research or vice versa? Which disciplines are most impactful, and so deserving of most funding? Are there particular disciplines that should be favoured in order to align with national priorities for industrial strategy, or societal challenges? Important new insights on these questions are being revealed from the new dataset that is available following the Research Excellence Framework (REF); nearly 7000 case studies of impact from research are now available for mining and analysis. While the dataset has some limitations, the case studies still present an unprecedented opportunity to start to answer these questions. Continue reading

Three cheers for research users engaging in REF 2014

In the UK, research outputs from universities are assessed every five years to determine future funding allocations from government. In 2014, for the first time, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) included an assessment of research impact. This component was worth 20 per cent of the score awarded to each institution. The assessment was performed by panels of academics and research users.

The importance of research user engagement throughout the process of REF 2014 cannot be overstated. Research users, or those benefitting from publicly funded university research, played key roles throughout REF 2014 in several ways. Their evidence was needed to substantiate academics’ claims about the wider impact of university research – conveyed through impact case studies and strategies. Secondly, representatives from beneficiary organisations, like the British Library, the Overseas Development Institute, the BBC, Royal Museums Greenwich, Oxfam, BT, BAE Systems and the Bank of England served on the panels that assessed the impact of university research. So their role in engaging with REF 2014 has been vital to its success and important to the future of the process. Continue reading

Influential, international and interdisciplinary: The impact of the UK’s research

For the first time, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) were required to submit impact case studies as part of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). In total, 6679 non-redacted case studies were submitted, and today, we publish a report of the results of our text mining analysis of these data.

The case studies are now available to read online in a searchable database developed by Digital Science, providing a rich resource that has enabled us to demonstrate that UK research has thousands of different applications worldwide. The analysis of the case studies, led by the Policy Institute and department of digital humanities at King’s College London, used text mining techniques leading to the identification of 60 impact topics or areas where research influences society, such as medical ethics, climate change, clinical guidance and women, gender and minorities. Automated text mining was also supplemented with ‘deep mines’, where more than 1000 case studies were read to provide a deeper picture of the data – looking at specific questions such as ‘what is the impact and value of research on clinical practice and health gain?’ and ‘what has been the impact of research on BRIC countries?’.

The results of this analysis are fascinating and also discussed in Research Fortnight and on the HEFCE blog. The take home message is that the benefits from research are multi-impactful. For example, the case studies submitted for the unit of assessment on psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience showed that these disciplines made a contribution to 49 of the 60 impact topics. These included obvious applications such as in mental health, but also in impact topics including transport, schools and education and crime and justice. We also discovered that the case studies contained more than 3700 individual pathways to impact presenting a real challenge to anyone interested in producing impact metrics.

Many of the case studies were able to provide a clear illustration of the contribution that universities make to society, in a way that has not been revealed before. For example, one case study reported on research showing that the painkiller co-proxamol was the most common drug used for suicides in the UK. This finding led to its withdrawal, and has been estimated to have led to approximately 600 fewer deaths by 2012 in the UK alone.

Our analysis has also shown that impact of UK universities is truly global with the Details of the Impact sections of the case studies mentioning every country in the world – with the US being the most frequently mentioned, followed by Australia, Canada and Germany.


The global reach of impacts arising from research undertaken in UK HEIs

The case studies provide a rich resource demonstrating the breadth and depth of research impact. They can also help us to change perceptions. For example, the largest impact topic was informing government policy, which was associated with 1233 case studies. The word ‘policy’ was mentioned in 3206 case studies. This is reassuring, given the pre-REF scepticism about whether case studies could capture and articulate impacts on public policy. It was suspected that researchers mostly influenced policy through personal contacts and under-the-radar advisory channels, rather than through specific research that could be described in a case study.

Our analysis is really just the start. There are limitations to using these case studies as research material, such as the universally positive sentiment in their language and the fact that researchers could carefully select which case studies to use and the number of identical or near-identical submissions. However, this rich resource provides numerous avenues for future research – to enable us to really dig deeper into the global impact of UK University research.

Dr Saba Hinrichs, Senior Research Fellow & Professor Jonathan Grant, Director, The Policy Institute at King’s