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From Excellence to Impact: A Comparative Study of Research Assessment in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom

Project Scheme:
General Research Fund
Project Year:
Project Leader:
Dr LO, Yat Wai
(Department of International Education)
From Excellence to Impact: A Comparative Study of Research Assessment in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom

Impact beyond academia has become an essential component of research assessment in HK. 

Although there is an abundance of literature in the field of higher education studies that exemplifies how the impact agenda has changed the UK’s higher education system – on which HK is traditionally modelled – little is known about the implications of this evolution of research assessment in the local context. 


A key theme that emerges in the UK literature is criticism that the impact agenda has undermined the freedom and autonomy of academics, causing an erosion of integrity and authenticity in academia. This theme essentially corresponds to the public/private dualism emphasised in Anglo-American societies. This dualism however is less relevant to Chinese culture, which tends instead to stress an overlap between public and private. This research will take this overlap as a counter to the public/private dualism to construct a theoretical framework for comparing how the impact agenda is received in HK and the UK. 


This research will consist of two qualitative inquiries designed to explore the significance of the cultural approaches to the public/private distinction in understanding the reception of the impact agenda in the two different contexts, supplemented with a documentary analysis that offers a thorough review of policy transfer in research assessment between HK and the UK. 


The first qualitative inquiry will investigate perceptions of the impact agenda among 96 academics from eight case universities in the two jurisdictions. In the second qualitative inquiry, participants from key research funding bodies and research users recruited via the case universities will be interviewed about their expectations for academic research in the two systems; this inquiry will continue until it reaches data saturation. This comparative research will provide a thorough understanding of the evolution of the impact agenda in HK and the UK. 


By comparing academics’ perceptions with funders’ and research users’ expectations, the research will offer a deeper understanding of how the impact imperative of academic research is received by key stakeholders in the sector, thereby enriching empirical knowledge of the manifestation of public accountability in the two higher education systems. By incorporating the cultural elements, the research will establish an innovative theoretical approach to the examination of the prevalent impact agenda in higher education.