Research Impact Reform…

Tory government would postpone REF, Willetts reveals

[…]The research excellence framework will be delayed by up to two years if the Conservatives win the 2010 general election, Times Higher Education can reveal. […]

A Taxpayer 15 January, 2010
So, a whole bunch of academics have decided to resign if impact is introduced – goodbye. I would thought that those afraid of having their efforts measured for usefulness to the society that pays for them to exist are the ones we can do without.

DavidM 19 January, 2010
It seems to me that this is an age old question of what good the people in HE are to a common man, or to be more precise in this case, how can Universities and their staff further a particular political agenda. If they can’t, well then they are obviously worthless to the power structure. It seems to me that measuring impact of a particular piece of research is a fiddly job – there have been numerous occasions where semi-unrelated research led to inventions that changed our civilisation (for instance nylons or Internet for that matter). How do you judge impact of that? I mean the first conversation over what we now call Internet was a 1200baud phone line connection. They wanted to send “HELLO” over the wires and the connection broke after it transmitted “HELL”… Should the government at that point have decided to scrap the research into the Internet, or at least not fund it, since it had no impact?
Also, let’s say that a researcher is doing a longitudinal study into, for instance, disclosure of political corruption, combined with rise of educational levels of general population. The study lasts five years. Does the researcher get no funding for five years, since it is somewhat obvious that he would have a hard time getting journals to accept articles along the lines of “I don’t know yet, let’s wait another few years…”? I am simplifying here, I know. At the same time, we would like to know for a fact that it is harder for politicians to get away with financial fraud if the general population is more knowledgeable. Would this fictional researcher get nothing for five years, then publish, get a bunch of prizes, which would secure plenty of funds for the University that year, but next year nothing again? What if the article still had impact that continued to reverberate? Do you fund Universities on the strength of their previous research or just current one?
The idea that pure knowledge is worthless to the common man is more or less playing into the hands of those who like to keep the common man uneducated and thus easier to manipulate. The fantasy that a person does not need academia because they are a drain on the taxpayers is incredibly shortsighted – oh yes, you will be able to buy one more Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar per year by keeping your hard-earned money for yourself (as if the taxpayers would actually pay less taxes!) but it won’t really help in ten or twenty years time when nobody actually remembers how to make chocolate.

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