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Evidence of the nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact released

A new analysis of impact case studies from the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) shows that research carried out by the UK’s universities has wide and varied benefits to the economy, society, culture, policy, health, the environment and quality of life, within the UK and overseas.

The analysis published today was carried out by Digital Science and co-funded by the UK higher education funding bodies, Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Wellcome Trust.

In 2014 for the first time, universities participating in REF were invited to provide examples of the wider impact of their research as part of their submissions. A step welcomed by the RCUK.  This latest work has produced the REF impact case study database, a searchable tool enabling analysis and automated text mining of the case studies. The database will encourage and enable further analysis of the case studies by any interested parties in the UK and internationally.

Commenting on the new impact case study research and database, Phil Heads project lead for the RCUK said:

“It is great to see yet more evidence of the research base bringing about benefit in the economy and society. The breadth and depth of impact from excellent research needs to be understood and celebrated. Our highly skilled researchers are a resource for the nation and the globe. This new work will enable us to better understand what they have achieved so far and ensure we enable these talented people to achieve in the future.” 

Phil Heads continued “Complementary investments by the Research Councils and the funding bodies through dual support enables our world leading research base to attract investment, businesses, researchers and students to the UK. This creates jobs and economic growth. This new evidence will enable us to demonstrate the successes produced by this model. Dual support enables the UK research base to succeed and lead in a globally competitive research and innovation environment.” 

Examples of impacts from Research Council funded work submitted through impact case studies to the REF include: 

  • Software tools based on artificial intelligence which are saving the NHS millions of pounds through more cost-efficient procurement
  • Mathematical modelling of extreme events which has enabled massive savings through the optimised design of coastal flood defences
  • New coatings for aircraft engines which are saving billions of pounds in reduced fuel costs as well as offering significant environmental benefits

In the report, ‘The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact’ key findings include that:

  • Over 80 per cent of the REF impact case studies included underpinning research that was multidisciplinary.
  • The impact case studies were diverse and wide-ranging, with over 60 unique ‘impact topics’ identified.
  • The reported research impacts stemmed from research in a wide-range of subject areas, with over 3,700 unique pathways from research to impact identified.
  • Research undertaken in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) has made a contribution to every country in the world.

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Further information

Nicholas Turner
Press and Communications Manager
Tel: 01793 444592 or email: Nicholas Turner

Notes to editors

  1. Digital Science is a division of Macmillan Science and Education. It worked on this project with Nature Publishing and the Policy Institute at King’s College, London.

  2. The impact case study database and the research reports are available here:

  3. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils who annually invest around £3 billion in research. We support excellent research, as judged by peer review, that has an impact on the growth, prosperity and wellbeing of the UK. To maintain the UK’s global research position we offer a diverse range of funding opportunities, foster international collaborations and provide access to the best facilities and infrastructure around the world. We also support the training and career development of researchers and work with them to inspire young people and engage the wider public with research. To maximise the impact of research on economic growth and societal wellbeing we work in partnership with other research funders including Innovate UK, the UK Higher Education funding bodies, business, government, and charitable organisations.

    The seven UK Research Councils are:

    • Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC);
    • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC);
    • Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC);
    • Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC);
    • Medical Research Council (MRC);
    • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC);
    • Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

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