The impact of our research

Although it is already ranked among the UK’s top 10 for ‘Impact by research power’, Nottingham has ambitious plans to grow further as a centre for research, including through international collaboration

Steven Hardy, Head of Research Outcomes and Acting Assistant DirectorResearch outcomes make a significant contribution to society and the economy – both in the UK and internationally.

This contribution, coined “impact”, is sometimes difficult to measure, however the Research Excellence Framework (REF) defines the term as “an effect on, change to or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond academia.”

The REF is the periodic assessment of the quality of the research base in the UK.

In the 2014 REF exercise, the University of Nottingham was ranked seventh in the UK for “Impact by research power” and eighth for the overall quality of its research.

Nottingham aims to be in the top five in the UK in the next REF exercise (in 2021). Further opportunities for impact, are central to the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

Creating wealth, boosting the knowledge economy

Benefits to the economy gained from research initiatives, meanwhile, include:

  • Wealth creation
  • New products and procedures
  • Inward investment
  • Creation of new companies

Furthermore, research has an additional impact on the knowledge economy, through scientific advances and new techniques.
And it is beneficial to people involved in the process, including to the development of their skills and fostering a talent pipeline.
So the impact of research is often diverse in its nature. It is also dependent on engaging stakeholders effectively and is not just about making economic gains.
There are both short and term beneficiaries who usually stretch beyond the scientists and academics who are directly involved in the research programmes.
In 2014, the REF introduced the assessment of “Impact” of research outcomes, alongside “Outputs” (publications of all types), and “Environment” (combining data with strategic narrative).

‘Spread the light of learning and knowledge’ through collaboration with the University of Nottingham

The impact element comprised mainly of short case studies, and these can be found in the REF2014 Impact database.

These case studies have been well received by stakeholders, including the UK Government, and subject to various analyses, including by research funders.

A key work examining impact is by Kings College London/Digital Science (2015) that analysed all 6,679 case studies, finding there were 60 distinct impact types, 3,709 unique “pathways to impact”, and clear evidence of impact from interdisciplinary research and international collaboration (see reference below).

Nottingham has a rich heritage in the impact of discovery science, Sir Jesse Boot, generously provided land for the University of Nottingham to be established had a vision of education “to spread the light of learning and knowledge … for the prosperity of the nation and welfare of our fellow citizens.”

Nearly a hundred years later, this vision is enshrined in a new Research Strategy to achieve, “a step change in research impact and knowledge exchange” through high quality outputs, impact, funding and reputation. This is underpinned by international collaboration, to extend the reach of Nottingham’s scientific impact.

Through major programmes such as the UK’s Newton Fund and Global Challenges Research through to its own pump-priming International Collaboration Fund, one of the key partners in the Nottingham BRC, the University of Nottingham is forming and enhancing international networks so that its research can reach communities and economies across the globe.

Reference: The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact: An initial analysis of Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 impact case studies. Research Report 2015/01. King’s College London and Digital Science. March 2015.