Evaluating ‘impact’ in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF): Liminality, looseness and new modalities of scholarly distinction.

Richard Watermeyer, Jennifer Chubb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Little is known about the process of evaluating the economic and societal impact of research undertaken in university settings. In this paper, we explore the accounts of senior academics and user-assessors, populating disciplinary sub-panels spanning the humanities and social sciences, convened to judge and 'score' the impact claims of researchers from UK universities as a new component of research evaluation within the specific context of the UK's performance based research funding system (PBRFS), the Research Excellence Framework (REF). We perceive from their accounts the emergence of a new and liminal space in the production of scholarly ‘distinction’ that is unlike archetypal modalities of academic excellence. Analogously, we identify an emotional and intellectual vulnerability in the review process and the loosening of the structures reviewers traditionally call upon in making value-determinations that simultaneously facilitate their role as impact evaluators and create new modalities in scholarly distinction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1554-1566
Number of pages13
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number9
Early online date26 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

The acceptance date for this record is provisional and based upon the month of publication for the article.

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


  • Research funding and evaluation
  • accountability
  • research excellence
  • research impact
  • research policy


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