Why we judge the quality of our academic research on its wider impact

Why we judge the quality of our academic research on its wider impact

Dundee’s decision to evaluate its research in new ways places the university at the heart of industrial innovation in Scotland

 

The University of Dundee’s approach to impact is distinctive for a research intensive university. We want to use our research strengths to shape our local environment. Like other universities we consider knowledge exchange, commercialisation and public engagement as priorities for our academic staff. But we also judge the overall value of our research on the basis of its impact on the communities we engage with, as well its inherent academic excellence.

It’s a controversial position to take but after a few short years we can already see the impact that it is having on the city of Dundee, our surrounding areas and future of the Scottish economy.

Our translational research in life sciences is a good example. Dundee is well known for its relationship with pharmaceutical companies on drug discovery. This includes exemplars such as the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy, which has attracted over £50 million in industry funding since its inception, and partners with including AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. It is widely regarded as a successful model through which academia and industry can interact productively and is cited by pharmaceutical companies as an example of best practice. More importantly it brings new investment into the university, and into Scotland, each year.

Design is another significant area of research at the University of Dundee. This has led to the development of the international centre of design, V&A Dundee. Kengo Kuma & Associates won an international architecture competition to design a landmark building for V&A Dundee on the banks of the River Tay which is soon to start construction, and will host major international design exhibitions. Through this type of project, the city of Dundee is becoming synonymous with groundbreaking design and design research.

Due to its location, Scotland is also the centre of the largest wind resource in Europe. Dundee city is close to one of the continent’s major offshore wind farm sites. Together with the Robert Gordon and Aberdeen universities, we have set up an Offshore Renewables Institute on campus. The institute has the support of industry and the Scottish government, and focuses on the practical issues surrounding offshore wind farming: consent, regulation, deployment and maintenance. Because of the success of this initial project, our civil engineering department has been awarded £1m in research funding to establish a marine engineering testing facility for the offshore wind industry.

So though some in academia may find the idea of judging research by its wider impact troubling, the effect of this decision is to place us at the heart of Scotland’s growing research-led economy. It means Scotland understands how essential our work is, and we attract future funding to continue our academic work. We think that’s evidence enough of our success.

Professor Stephen Decent is Vice-Principal for Wider Impact at the University of Dundee 

Do you think research can be judged on community impact? Let us know on twitter @NCUBtweets or comment below.

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