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Universities to run ‘impact’ pilot

The Australian Technology Network of Universities is running a pilot to test how to assess the impact of university research, reports the Conversation news website.

The ATN, which represents five of Australia’s more industry-focused universities, is looking into whether funding could be allocated according to the impact of research outside higher education.

According to the Conversation, 12 institutions will take part, including four from the Group of Eight research-intensive universities: Western Australia, Melbourne, New South Wales, and Queensland.

A steering group made up of deputy vice-chancellors from participating universities will set the agenda for the pilot.

Such a system of funding based on research impact was mooted for Australia when the Research Quality Framework was being developed: it was abandoned in 2007 along with the RQF when the government chose to use the metrics-based Excellence in Research for Australia.

The UK is pushing ahead with an assessment system that includes looking at the social and economic impact of university research by asking universities to submit case studies.

Ian McMahon, director of research at the Group of Eight, told the Conversation that the elite universities were taking part despite their opposition to the RQF because there was “a need for some additional information” not covered by ERA. He stressed, however, that the trial exercise would be separate from ERA.

“With ERA they had a close look at ‘research excellence’, but clearly there’s [now] general acceptance that we’d also like to know a lot more about the broader social, economic, and other benefits of research,” he said. “We’re approaching the trial as an experiment in terms of trying to come up with, ‘Well, what measures are there of the benefits of research?’—whether you call it ‘research impact’ or you use another name. It’s not just the commercialisation benefits [we’re looking at] but the social benefits, and benefits to welfare generally.”