‘Impact of UK Computer Science Research’ Report Released

Available from: http://cs-academic-impact.uk/

This is based on the 280 impact case studies submitted to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) sub panel 11 Computer Science and Informatics by Eighty Seven institutions.  Over 80% of the case studies had some form of economic impact, including spin-out businesses created by universities, software tools and techniques developed by research projects which have benefited the efficiency of both computing practitioners in large and small organisations, as well as standard security and communication protocols in daily use by millions of users. The annual revenue generated from those spinouts which included figures in the case studies, was in excess of £170 million and they had nearly 1900 employees. The additional sales revenues attributed to the academic research in industries such as aerospace, telecommunications, computing and energy was about £400 million.  Some of the impact has been in the form of public policy, for example in terms of identifying security risks, informing healthcare decisions or public debate on ethical issues. There has been considerable social impact in terms of new healthcare procedures and treatments as well as aids for disabled or elderly people.

The sub-panel assessors, which included eight people from industry and government appointed only to assess impact, recommended about fifty case studies as being potentially suitable for publicising UK academic Computer Science impact.  These were not the fifty highest scoring case studies but were selected based on potential interest to the general public.  An initial set of twenty case studies was selected from these to be written up in a form to make them more accessible to non-technical people. The selection criteria included ease of understanding of the technology underpinning the impact, potential interest by the public,examples from a wide range of different types of impact – both social and economic and showing that excellent impact can be generated from a range of universities with both large and small submissions to REF including post-92 universities, Russell Group and the other universities.

The 2014 REF was the first formal assessment of impact as part of the overall research assessment of UK academic institutions.  The sub-panel assessors were very impressed by the extent to which UK academic research has had social and economic impact within the UK and often world-wide.  The range of impact case studies included:

  • Spin-out companies from universities, some of which had then been taken over by large international companies.
  • Software tools and techniques either made available open-source or sometimes licensed to particular organisations with impact in automotive, aerospace, energy suppliers, media, gaming, healthcare, pharmaceutical, transport, retail as well as computing industry.   
  • Contributions to many different international standards e.g. telecommunication, web, compilers, security.
  • Impact on government, healthcare and security policy as well as on public awareness about ethical and social issues.

The REF criteria stated that the research underpinning the impact must have taken place during the period 1 January 1993 to 31 December 2013 and be of a quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour (i.e. at least 2* quality, in terms of REF scoring), but the actual impact must have taken place during the period 1 January 2008 to 31 July 2013.  The underpinning research described in case studies ranged from development of specific protocols, to formal methods used to reason about software design or to machine learning techniques.  The underpinning research was often of the highest quality with publications in top conferences and journals.

The twenty case studies selected for this report were picked to reflect the range of those submitted and include spin out companies, software tools and techniques, commercialisationof open source software as well as a number of healthcare related applications and aids for people with disabilities. Some case studies indicate impact influencing public policy including issues relating to electronic payments, autonomous weapons systems and evaluation of health information systems.

The working group managing the report included Jon Crowcroft, David Duce, Ursula Martin, David Robertson and Morris Sloman.  John Hill wrote the impact case study texts, in consultation with the relevant academics, and Naomi Atkinson was responsible for the design layout of the report.

Available from: http://cs-academic-impact.uk/

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