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Research impact

Our Impact Strategy sets out how we will ensure that the research we do makes a difference beyond academia. It celebrates our current strengths and acknowledges where we need to improve, and says how we will support our academics to make a lasting, meaningful impact on our world. This means ensuring that we understand what impact is, embedding it in our research, providing the resources we need to create impact, adjusting the way we work, and developing and nurturing our impact makers – our staff.


Our understanding and measurement of impact is guided by the Research Excellence Framework, but we are driven to achieve impact for its own sake, and not only to develop outstanding impact case studies. Our motto is impact is impact.

University of Sunderland Impact Strategy

Corporate plan objective supported: Future shapers
Service plan objective supported: Create sector-leading, applied research

Context and rationale

We aim to develop the University’s approach to identifying and achieving impact outside of academia, to allow the institution to realise its strategic ambition to have a demonstrable impact on the city and region. In doing so, our research will have an impact in areas including business innovation, knowledge transfer, policy development, continuing professional development and academic teaching.

As a publicly-funded institution, we have a moral obligation to ensure that the research we do has a positive impact outside of the institution. Scope for impact is broad, with beneficiaries ranging from individuals to the planet, making changes in areas from culture to technology. Beyond our institutional obligation, we have individual responsibilities to ensure that the research we do benefits more than only ourselves or our disciplines, and that it has a positive effect on the world around us.

Impact is growing in importance in how research and institutions are evaluated, whether funding is granted, and in shaping an institution’s reputation. The research profile of a University is no longer assessed solely on outputs, but puts great weight on the impact of research. At the next REF exercise, impact scores will carry a 25% weight – up from the 20% weighting at the last REF. In addition, the University’s impact strategy will form part of the institutional impact statement, carrying a further 7% weighting. Beyond the REF, external funding bodies assume that the research they fund will have an impact beyond academia, and expect applications to specify what that will be, and how it will be achieved. By seeing impact as a constituent part of the University’s research, and by showing our commitment to impact in our actions, we can inspire our students to consider the impact that they have on the world, too.

Current strengths

At REF 2014, six of the University’s UoAs generated impact that was at least very considerable in terms of their reach and significance, and three generated impact that was judged to be outstanding. The University has demonstrated its commitment to impact by appointing a permanent REF Impact Officer, and by committing to invest significant financial resources in generating impact.


1. Raise awareness of impact across the institution

To ensure that impact becomes a fundamental part of the research we do, we will work to improve understanding of impact, how it is achieved, what impact our research has done, and what impact our researchers can achieve.

We will:

2. Embed impact across the research project lifecycle

Thinking about impact at the start of project development will allow us to identify impact opportunities at an early stage, and incorporate well-developed impact plans in funding applications. This proactive approach will ensure that impact opportunities are fully realised.

We will:

3. Provide resources to support impact across the University

We will create dedicated resources to embed and develop an impact culture across the University. We will encourage, support and empower academic staff to pursue ambitious impact activities.

We will:

4. Create new systems and processes to embed impact into University administration

New systems and processes will be integrated with existing tools and procedures to ensure that impact activities are identified, developed, recorded and shared. Improved, centralised administration will mean that all academic staff can learn how to develop and realise impact opportunities, access expert advice and financial support, share success, access best practice and find out what impact their colleagues’ research is having.

We will:

5. Develop and nurture our academic staff

Our academic staff are our impact makers. We will create a framework for supporting and rewarding staff for identifying and realising ways to make their research have a positive impact outside of academia.

We will:

Key Performance Indicators

1. Awareness of impact (dissemination of and feedback on impact guidance, number of press releases circulated, views on website)
2. Impact activities (number of opportunities identified, planned and realised, successful funding applications)
3. REF impact (case study grades)
4. Comprehensive database (guidance on recording and evidencing impact developed and disseminated, all impact activities recorded, evidence gathered proactively and stored centrally)
5. Staff knowledge (impact KPIs in appraisals met, attendance figures for training events, evaluation of training, promotions due to impact)


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