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The politics of research impact: academic perceptions of the implications for research funding, motivation and quality

Abstract

There is growing interest in demonstrating the societal and economic value of research around the world with the UK and Australia at the forefront of these developments. Characterised as an ‘impact agenda’, impact policies have incited debate amongst the academic community and beyond. On the one hand, the edifying and reinforcing effects of impact can be seen to provide greater visibility about the use of public investment in research, whilst, on the other concerns about the subsequent and unintended effects on the nature and quality of research and research cultures, have contributed to a discourse which was (in the very beginning at least) one dominated by resistance. We draw on a qualitative analysis of interviews with UK and Australian mid-senior career academics (n = 51) which explored academic perceptions for resisting an impact agenda, to describe a range of perceived effects on research funding, motivation and quality. We find a persistent perception that impact favours and prioritises ‘types’ of research, leading to a concern that this will reduce funding for certain disciplines. We also note how academics perceived deleterious effects on motivation, culture, capacity and the quality of research. Where impact was seen to ‘direct’ or ‘drive’ research, we discuss how some academics suggested they would re-orientate their work, often at the expense of quality. Indeed, misconceptions about the very meaning of ‘impact’ appear to persist alongside varied intepretations of impact policies and mixed perceptions about how impact is considered in practice with respect to funding decisions. In addition, we posit that extrinsic motivations for impact are ‘crowding out’ intrinsic motivations of academics, altering perceptions of self-determination. This is further compounded by the growing politicisation of knowledge which in turn creates an ideological barrier to engagement. If impact is to be embraced and sustained at scale, institutions must target and harness a wider range of intrinsic motivations and epistemic responsibilities, improving academics’ abilities to respond to the impact agenda in addition to working with, not against those who create policy.

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Chubb, J., Reed, M.S. The politics of research impact: academic perceptions of the implications for research funding, motivation and quality. Br Polit 13, 295–311 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-018-0077-9

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Keywords

  • Impact
  • Research assessment
  • Funding
  • Knowledge
  • Neoliberalism