Data enhancement and analysis of the REF 2021 impact case studies

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A report published today provides an in-depth examination of the impact case studies (ICSs) developed by institutions as part of their submissions to REF 2021.

The report was produced on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies and UK Research and Innovation.

Impact in Research Excellence Framework (REF)

REF 2014 and REF 2021 used ICSs to help assess research impact beyond academia. These documents detail a project’s impact and underpinning research.

The body of over 6,000 REF 2021 ICSs provides a rich resource for analysis and showcases the research undertaken at UK higher education institutions (HEIs).

The study published today analysed these ICSs to investigate the nature and beneficiaries of their impact, underpinning research and relationship to the UK government’s priority policy areas.

Key findings from the report

UK HEIs have had a significant and diverse societal impact

HEIs’ research impacts were diverse, spanning 79 unique impact topics ranging from ‘cancer diagnostics and therapy’ and ‘intelligence and cyber security’ to ‘pollution and air quality’ and ‘language and linguistics’.

Impact was global, national and local

Research at UK HEIs has had an impact globally, with almost every country benefitting from the research. Moreover, exploring the flow of impact between UK regions showed that impact was often exported from the region or nation where the research was conducted to other UK areas.

Research benefited many different groups

In total, 59 different beneficiary types were identified across the ICSs.

The top five beneficiary groups identified comprised:

  • governments
  • communities
  • policymakers
  • practitioners
  • industry

We also identified several specific beneficiary groups, including nurses and farmers, highlighting the diversity of beneficiary groups within the ICSs.

Analysis revealed differing interdisciplinarity and collaboration levels across ICSs

ICSs draw on insights from multiple fields of research, with 72% of ICSs based on publications with two or more fields of research.

The characteristics of the underpinning research reveals that there are differences in the concentration of interdisciplinary research between impact topics. For example, impact topics associated with societal challenges were more likely to have high interdisciplinary research levels.

ICSs were underpinned by highly cited research

Most ICSs underpinning research performed better than the global average citation counts for the relevant fields of research.

The percentage of highly cited papers was significantly higher than the global average of 1%. Panel A was the highest at 9.7%.

A number of other related reports will be published alongside this report:

  • for Scotland:
    Three new reports provide fresh insight into how Scottish university research benefits the lives of people not only in Scotland but in many other parts of the world. The reports look at society, the economy, and the impact of Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) research excellence grant:

    • Impacts of research from Scottish universities: Analysis of the REF 2021 ICS by RAND
    • The economic impact of university research funding in Scotland by Fraser of Allander Institute
    • The bedrock of university research: SCF’s research excellence grant
  • for Wales:

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