Impacts of research from Scottish universities: Analysis of the REF 2021 Impact Case Studies
Lighthouse in Aberdeen, Scotland, photo by bomboman/Adobe Stock
Scottish university research has had wide-ranging societal impacts, including in drug discovery and clinical trials, the marine environment, museums and cultural heritage.
What is the issue?
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a system for assessing the range and quality of academic research conducted at universities in the United Kingdom (UK). It is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE). The corpus of REF 2021 impact case studies provides a rich resource for analysis and showcases the research undertaken at UK HEIs.
How did we help?
The SFC commissioned RAND Europe, together with Electric Data Solutions and Different Angles, to conduct a study to review the breadth and depth of Scottish higher education’s research impact beyond academia, as represented in the REF 2021 impact case studies. The 746 Scottish university case study submissions provide a rich resource for analysing the broader societal impacts of Scottish university research, reflecting Scottish higher education research’s diversity and reach.
The specific research questions included:
- What are Scotland’s particular research impact strengths?
- How does research collaboration affect Scottish universities’ research impacts?
- How are Scottish universities contributing to Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF) outcomes?
- What contributions have SFC innovation investments made?
The study provides an in-depth examination of Scottish university impact case studies using a bespoke, mixed-methods research approach that involved a range of quantitative and qualitative analyses such as topic modelling, geotagging, text searches, bibliometric analysis, infographics and deep dives. This report is intended for a range of stakeholders including those interested in higher education research, the REF and research assessment, and more generally to anyone interested in the impact of universities on society.
What did we find?
- Scottish university research has made a significant societal contribution.
- Scottish university research has had wide-ranging societal impacts, including in drug discovery and clinical trials, the marine environment, museums and cultural heritage.
- Scottish universities’ research impact pathways are unique and emphasise the complexity and multidisciplinarity of research impacts.
- Research collaboration plays a significant role in Scottish universities delivering research impact.
- Scottish universities’ research contributes to Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF) outcomes, including local impacts around health, education, culture, international and environmental impacts, and links to multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Scottish universities have achieved diverse and significant impacts across their local areas.
- Scottish universities have contributed to global impacts and multiple UN SDGs.
- Scottish universities have contributed to environmental impacts, including advancing net-zero goals locally and internationally.
- Scottish Government innovation investments impact key areas such as aquaculture, healthcare and construction.
For a comprehensive examination of the broader impact of UK university research, we recommend reading this report in conjunction with the separate report documenting our analysis of the UK-wide impact case study dataset.