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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

RCUK cannot formulate the impact

An interesting article in the Times Higher Education from a week ago.

The research councils have abandoned plans to develop a formula to calculate the economic impact of the research projects that they fund.

The seven councils have conceded that it is not possible to accurately quantify the value to the economy of a diverse range of research projects.

The move has delighted critics who argued that the Government's "economic impact" agenda is damaging blue-skies research and discouraging the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

I have not seen any discussion of this recently but it surely has ramifications for how STFC will rank its programmes in the future.

Martin Taylor, the vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "By pursuing an algorithm-based approach, RCUK was in danger of oversimplifying the relationship between knowledge creation and economic impact ... We hope this is a sign that it will take a more sophisticated approach in future."

Peter Main, the director of education and science at the Institute of Physics, said the plan "would have led to unfair treatment and, possibly, an undesirable incentive for concentrating activity into a small number of areas".

He said attention needed to be focused on the role of blue-skies research in driving the economy rather than looking for an "easily identified, relatively short-term return".

Well, quite.

Though I doubt that this means that the government will now simply turn its back on expectations of publicly funded science having direct and measurable benefit to the UK economy. They will simply find another way of pushing it.

Of course if there is an area of science that has obvious knowledge transfer possibilities as well as a clear blue-skies component, how do you play it? Something I have heard a lot recently is that if you demonstrate too much usefulness to industry you get told that industry should fund it.

1 comment:

Ryan Somma said...

Thanks for pointing this out. I'm glad to see it isn't just an issue in America, where people constantly question the value of generalized research without realizing that the research wouldn't be done if the government didn't fund it, and the government doesn't get compensated when corporations follow the leads generalized research reveals. What hubris to think one can quantify the economic value of research!