Article in the journal British Politics, 13 pp 348-360
Since the Research Excellence Framework of 2014 (REF2014) ‘impact’ has created a conceptual conundrum gradually being pieced together by academics across the Higher Education sector. Emerging narratives and counter-narratives focus upon its role in dictating institutional reputation and funding to universities. However, not only does literature exploring impact, rather than ‘REF2014 impact’ per se, seldom see it as part of a changing sector, but it often also treats it as a new phenomenon within the political and social sciences. Here, we draw upon academic perceptions of impact set in motion in the UK during the 1970s, we critique the underlying assumption that impact is new. We argue three key points to this end. Firstly, contrary to much of the literature examining academic perceptions of impact, it is a long-standing idea. Secondly, within such accounts, the effect of academic research on policy and society (which is long-standing) and the instrumentalisation of impact as a funding requirement (which is relatively new) are conflated. Thirdly, this conflation creates a novelty effect. In the context of a wider sea change to Higher Education, we examine different forms of consent, acceptance, endorsement and resistance surrounding the ‘new’ impact agenda to argue that this ‘novelty effect’ masks an important transitory process of acclimatisation among academics.