There is more and more a call for universities to be relevant to society. ‘Impact’ buzzes all around academia. In this discourse, universities typically are presented as centres that generate knowledge and research. Measuring, evaluating, and comparing the societal impact of different universities and research centers is now taking place in national frameworks (like the REF) and international rankings (like the THE Impact Ranking). However, education and teaching are structurally underrepresented in these practices. Most of the rankings and evaluations are based on publication metrics and case studies that do not particularly represent how and to what extent academic teaching activities are of use to dealing with societal issues. Along these lines, this paper seeks to analyze how and why research and teaching become separated in rankings and evaluations of societal impact. We explore the question of how universities’ core teaching activities can contribute to answering societal issues and how this is present in the emerging field of impact evaluation. In this paper, we argue that there is a need for developing a line of research on impact-driven education to study the efforts universities worldwide are taking to adopt educational models that allow a learning environment where students have the opportunity a) to use their knowledge and skills to answer real-life problems instead of fictional problems; b) to have more agency in their learning process c) work in close collaboration with stakeholders. These new approaches to teaching and learning demand a certain level of preparedness before these can lead to evidence-based outcomes. In this context, we aim to outline the state-of-the-art of research in impact-driven education efforts, especially in the Netherlands. In conclusion, we reflect on the consequences of separating teaching and research activities when it comes to the achievement of societal impact.
Eldris Con Aguilar is an educational researcher with a diverse professional background in History and Geography education, Latin American studies, and Heritage Education. She obtained her PhD at Leiden University in 2019. Her PhD research was part of the ERC-Synergy research project NEXUS 1492. There she studied, from a pedagogical approach, the teaching of indigenous heritage in the Caribbean social studies curriculum. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) where she conducts evaluation studies on the impact of Impact Driven Education activities at the core of the curriculum of the EUR within the Impact at the Core programme. She is also an affiliated researcher at the Centre for Global Heritage and Development (Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities). Her interest revolves around teacher education, impact studies in higher education and heritage education.
Jorrit Smit is a postdoctoral researcher in the project ‘Evaluating Societal Impact’ at Erasmus University Rotterdam. With diverse science studies methods, he investigates the potential and limits of impact evaluation and its effects on scientific practice. Previously, he conducted a PhD on the history and philosophy of valorisation and impact policies at Leiden University. This project was funded by a personal NWO grant for PhD’s in the Humanities. Jorrit was a visiting researcher at UCL Science and Technology Studies (UCL-STS) and the UCLA History Department, and a research intern at the policy think-tank Rathenau Institute. He studied physical chemistry, philosophy and history of science at the universities of Amsterdam, Leuven and Utrecht. Jorrit has published on the paradoxical effects of impact policy on researchers, the history of valorisation as part of university identity and the politics of scientific internationalism in the interwar period.