David Willetts, the Conservative shadow education secretary, has queried the assessment of impact in the Research Excellence Framework (Ref), according to ResearchResearch.
At a fringe meeting at the Tory conference, Willetts criticised the "clunky" assessment of impact now required by the research councils. Its saving grace, he said, was that leaders of the research councils had told him that they didn't let it affect their grant-making decisions. And he went on to warn: "We don't want to import that into the Ref."
The statement sharpens the differences between Conservative and Labour over the future of the Ref. While Willetts has shifted the Conservatives away from the new approach outlined in the consultation published by HEFCE last month, vice-chancellors are saying that the impact agenda has come directly from Alistair Darling's Treasury.
Willetts also said at the meeting that he thought the biggest challenge for universities was in teaching, not research, and gave a warm endorsement to the importance of research in the social sciences and humanities.