Victory for research – plans to make funding dependent on ‘economic impact’ postponed
On 9 July 2010 UCU welcomed the announcement from the minister for universities and science, David Willetts, that there would be a one-year delay in order to review proposed changes to the Research Excellence Framework (REF): UCU welcomes decision to postpone plans to force economic impact into research.
The proposed changes would have placed a judgement about the ‘economic impact’ of research activity at the heart of decisions about future funding.
However, the proposals, developed under the previous New Labour administration, came under sustained attack from the academic community in a campaign led by the University and College Union and in April this year, it was announced that government body that funds much research in UK universities was bowing to the ‘unexpected’ pressure and delaying implementation of the proposals until after the May general election.
UCU argued that the proposals which would have meant that 25% of any funding decision would be based on an assessment of the ‘economic impact’ of research activity, would erode the basis of genuine innovation by stifling long-term, curiosity-based or Blue-Skies research, as well as threatening to wipe out entire disciplines in the humanities.
UCU submitted a petition to withdraw the impact proposals, signed by almost 18,000 academics, including six Nobel prize winners and leading academics from every field. The union also ran a poll of senior academics that showed that one third would consider pursuing their careers abroad if the impact proposals were enacted.
Following intensive lobbying, the influential Science and Technology committee of MPs in Parliament announced that it would make ‘impact’ part of its enquiry and called UCU to give evidence. The Committee’s report, published in March 2010, warned that finding a fair and effective way of measuring impact represented an “insurmountable” problem.