In October 2016, Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, stated that research impact should be one of three ‘core values’ for Europe’s research funding programmes, next to excellence and openness, and that his hope was to develop a ‘more sophisticated approach’ to impact. The League of European Research Universities (LERU) launched a new paper on why and how societal impact is, has always been and will remain a core task of universities. Prof Wiljan van den Akker (director Centre for the Humanities) and dr Jack Spaapen (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences) are authors of the position paper Productive interactions: societal impact of academic research in the knowledge society. They state that universities should look at societal impact in a new way and adjust their policies accordingly.
Over the last decade and more, the discussion of universities’ impact on society, and the impact of research in particular, has gained importance. It is, to a varying extent, embedded in policies referring to universities’ contributions to the knowledge society, solving global, societal challenges, building an open and inclusive European Research Area, and more. LERU expects this trend to intensify even more in the near future.
In this paper, LERU reflects on the consequences of these societal developments on research and research impact, and how and why the concept of impact has changed in recent times. It analyses the current context in which societal impact is discussed at LERU universities and beyond, how this impact is pursued as a high-level strategy at LERU universities, and how the current understanding of impact and its explicit recognition inside and outside of the university has significant consequences for the entire research ecosystem, including universities, researchers, funders, governments, private and public stakeholders and the public at large.