“Impact” is a slippery slope of a concept, especially for the arts and humanities. It will vulgarise our research, protest high-minded academics, and turn first-rate universities into second-rate companies. How can you measure the impact of an activity whose worth is not only self-evident but too rich and too nebulous for functionalist metrics? While it may be justifiable to scrutinise the return on investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics research, the humanities, so different in kind and output, cannot possibly be subjected to the same process-driven methodology.
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.
The research excellence framework impact pilot exercise, just completed, set out to answer the question being asked, ever more insistently, by the Treasury: “If public funding is poured into university research, what does the public get for its money?”
Five disciplines, including English, were invited to test a methodology to identify and rank the impact of research outside the academy.
From the start, it was clear that special pleading for English would only sound the death knell for the humanities. They are the poor relation of the research budget anyway. For goodness sake, let’s protect what we have, even if it’s only crumbs from the rich man’s table. For if we believe in the value of what we are doing – and I have yet to meet a humanities scholar who does not – then surely we should be able to defend it with the articulacy and verve that is our trademark.