Cultural Impact and Knowledge Exchange and Small Specialist Institutions in REF2021

In the recent NCACE publication REF 2021: Research Impact and the Arts and Culture Sectors we analysed the submissions of small, specialist higher education providers that conduct research within disciplines that correspond to the arts and culture sectors, such as music, the visual arts, the performing arts and literature. Chapter 3 - An analysis of the REF2021 impact case study submissions from small and specialist HEIs analysed the types of collaborative interactions taking place within specialist institutions as represented within the REF2021 case studies, in addition to analysing the types of impact represented, the beneficiaries affected, and the funders and partners involved in each case study. As Professor Maria Delgado notes in her Foreword, ‘the role of the small specialist institutions reminds the reader of how diverse the UK higher education sector is,’ and ‘that big isn’t necessarily best.’

The 18 specialist institutions identified as conducting both research and Knowledge Exchange activities (because they are named in REF and either the KEF Arts Cluster or GuildHE) submitted a total of 73 impact case studies, of which 55 feature interactions with, or impact upon, the arts and culture sector. All 55 of these case studies were submitted to either UoA 32- Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory or UoA 33 - Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies. 

The data extracted from these case studies was as follows: 

  • 13 case studies cited ‘formal’ partners: 4 listed one partner and the remainder named multiple partners - with the most being 25 partners involved in one case study. 
  • Arts Council England is listed as a funder for 16% of the case studies submitted by specialist institutions, whereas for the entire REF impact database, ACE is accredited to only 1.2% 
  • 43% involve collaboration with museums, galleries or exhibitions and overwhelmingly cite public engagement activities or research dissemination as the impact achieved.
  • 12% claim some type of policy impact.
  • 37% involve a collaboration with an external artistic or cultural practitioner who are not cited as ‘formal’ partners.
  • 18% of case studies that focus on the work of researcher-practitioners employed by the submitting institution and involve impact derived from practice-based research.
  • There is big emphasis on impact and knowledge exchange taking place within the visual arts sector, including museums, galleries, fine art and sculpture.
  • Beneficiaries range from specific practitioners to the general public, refugees and marginalised young people in the UK.
  • Over 50% of the case studies in this sample speak to one of the four NCACE Grand Challenge themes.

From this extracted data and close textual analysis, we were able to conclude the following patterns from within this sample: 

  • significant funding investment from Arts Council England; 
  • substantial investment through the AHRC; 
  • strong knowledge exchange economies between specialist arts institutions and local galleries and museums; 
  • high levels of interaction with policy - whether that be national/devolved government policies, industry policy or local authority policies; 
  • strong representation within case studies of practice-researchers and evidence of long-standing reciprocal interactions with artistic/cultural practitioners, both individuals and organisations; 
  • a focus on marginalised and under-represented groups, and a dedication to supporting the development and legacies of respective cultural and artistic practices. 

There are some similarities between the themes that emerged through the larger sample of impact case studies in Chapter 2 Addressing societal Grand Challenges through arts and culture research by Dr Ning Baines and Dr Federica Rossi and this smaller sample submitted by specialist institutions. Firstly, a significant level of policy impact was reported in both samples. Secondly, both analyses demonstrate a concentration of impact case studies reporting benefits to marginalised groups. Collaborative work with partners is also a shared theme, with the co-development of training or education programmes, exhibitions and performances. However, the sample taken from the specialist institutions does not feature much interaction with businesses or the monetisation of products derived from research collaborations. What is clear from this analysis is that the impact case studies submitted by the small specialist institutions have demonstrated that, despite their size and specialist foci, these HEIs provide impressive levels of support to the arts and culture sectors through collaborative research, knowledge exchange and discipline specific investment. Such collaborations have also led to demonstrable impact for the benefit of wider society, marginalised groups, the healthcare sector and the environment.

See: “Chapter 3, An analysis of the REF2021 impact case study submissions from small and specialist HEIs” of our full report on REF 2021.