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Instrumentalism and Epistemic Responsibility:Researchers and the Impact Agenda in the UK and Australia

Chubb, Jennifer Alison (2017) Instrumentalism and Epistemic Responsibility:Researchers and the Impact Agenda in the UK and Australia. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Instrumentalism and Epistemic Responsibility JC106045987 - Final Submission - 2Nov.pdf - Examined Thesis (PDF)
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The management and measurement of the non-academic impact of research has emerged as a strong and consistent theme within the higher education research environment in the UK. This has been mirrored in other national contexts, particularly in Australia, where research impact policy is evolving at a similar pace. The impact agenda - a move to assess the ways in which investment in academic research delivers measurable socio-economic benefit - has sparked discussion and in some instances controversy, amongst the academic community and beyond. Critics argue that it is symptomatic of the marketisation of knowledge and that it threatens traditional academic norms and ideals, whilst its advocates welcome the opportunity to increase the visibility of research beyond academia. In this thesis, I explore the response of academics in the UK and Australia to impact in these two respective national contexts. Adopting a case study approach and using interviews with mid-senior career academics (n=51), I drew my findings both inductively and deductively using thematic analysis. The thesis contributes to the relatively small but emerging body of scholarly research into academics’ attitudes towards research impact. Analysis indicates that considerations of research impact have profound effects on academic behaviour and identity. Increased focus on justifying the value of research affects how academics feel about their roles and responsibilities. An association with knowledge and its utility dominates academic perceptions and is seen to be in direct tension with a strong sense of epistemic responsibility. Whilst responsibility emerges as a key motivation for engagement with the impact agenda, the pressures of an increasingly competitive research environment can be seen to negatively affect the integrity of academics. These effects span disciplinary and national boundaries and reveal two distinctive cultures where affinities between academics whose research has a less instrumental nature, appear to contrast with views expressed predominantly from those with an instrumental focus. Analysis reveals complex diversity across the disciplines in how impact is understood and contextualised, indicative of a new clustering of academic disciplines, distinct from the traditional divide between arts and sciences yet reminiscent of a pure/applied distinction. Despite a persistent theme of resistance, it is perhaps in the acknowledgement and understanding of the diversity in disciplinary responses that the potential for the impact agenda to bring enhanced intellectual credibility to applied research can be explored, providing greater motivation for the disciplines to work together for maximum impact. These findings have significant implications for national governments, policy makers and funders, as well as for leaders of academic institutions and of course, for the academic community.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Related URLs:
Keywords: Impact, higher education, research policy, integrity, responsibility, accountability, academic freedom, academic virtue, academic identity
Academic Units: The University of York > Department of Education (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.727350
Depositing User: Ms Jennifer Alison Chubb
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2017 14:05
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2018 15:23
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18575

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