Research with Impact

Impact Case Studies

REF2014 included a new ‘Research Impact’ assessment criterion. Impact accounted for 20% of the overall assessment and required universities to demonstrate the impact of their research, defined as, “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.”

Stirling’s Impact Case studies cover a wide breadth of disciplines and demonstrate how our researchers are making a major contribution to society and addressing key global challenges.

Click on each of the case study headlines below to find out more about how our research is relevant to communities all over the world.

Award-winning interdisciplinary research into the marketing of tobacco has impacted upon public health and health policy. Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing (ISM) found point-of-sale marketing of tobacco, including tobacco display racks, directly influences consumer behaviour and has a clear effect on adult and youth smoking.

The research contributed directly to the development of the 2009 Health Act (England and Wales) and the Tobacco & Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010, the latter being the most significant change in Scottish tobacco control legislation since the 2005 ban on public smoking. Both acts restrict the display of tobacco at the point of sale in order to make tobacco products less attractive and accessible.

The display ban was implemented successfully in large shops and supermarkets between 2012 and 2013, while smaller shops will be obliged to comply by 2015. Being awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2013 was affirmation of the significance of Stirling’s ground-breaking research in this area.


Our academic research on the influence of point-of-sale tobacco marketing cuts across the fields of both health and management. Our research in both health and management was judged to be among the top 25% across the UK in REF2014. All of our health work was assessed as being carried out in an environment favourable to producing world-leading research. Almost 90% of our health research output was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent in terms of its originality, significance and rigour. The impact of over 90% of our management research was seen as world-leading or internationally excellent. 

International research led by Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group (OEHRG) found that those who work in jobs where they are exposed to a ‘toxic soup’ of chemicals are at a much higher risk of developing certain cancers.

The research, which looked at the scale and cost of occupational cancers – especially asbestos-related cancers and breast cancers – informed policy decisions made by governments around the world.

It also contributed to prevention strategies and support made available to patients, including material used by Macmillan Scotland, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention, the Cancer Prevention Society and WHO Europe.


Our health research, including investigation into occupational cancers, was ranked in the top 25% in its field across the UK in REF2014. All research was assessed as being conducted in an environment conducive to producing world-leading research. Almost 90% of our output, in terms of originality, significance and rigour, was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent.

World-leading aquaculture research included two key projects in support of the UK and international salmon farming sector.

The first developed methods to minimise the damaging impact of sea lice – parasites which kill huge numbers of salmon and cost the global fishing industry more than €305 million each year. Scientists in the University’s Institute of Aquaculture (IoA) created an integrated pest management strategy, which includes the use of wrasse, pictured right, small fish which clean the farmed salmon. This strategy has been adopted in the UK and across all other major salmon producing countries, reducing the economic impact, supporting sustainability and protecting fish welfare.

A second study saw scientists develop sustainable alternatives to marine fish oil. Fish act as the primary source of omega-3 nutrients in our diets, helping to prevent cardiovascular and neurological diseases. High levels of omega-3 can be assured in farmed fish by adding marine fish oil to their feeds, but it became clear that demand for fish oil would rapidly outstrip supply if alternatives were not introduced. Stirling researchers developed the use of vegetable oil as a replacement for fish oil in fish feed, maintaining the nutritional quality of farmed fish and offering a timely solution which has been employed across the global fish farming industry.


Research to help protect the Atlantic salmon industry against the impacts of parasites is a prime example of our aquaculture research. In the REF2014, our aquaculture research scored highly, with 88% being rated as either world-leading or internationally excellent, 12% above the UK average in the Unit of Assessment. 90% of our submitted aquaculture research was considered to be world-leading in terms of impact, all carried out in an environment conducive to producing world-leading research.

Award-winning facial recognition technology conceived at Stirling is helping to catch criminals. Stirling Psychologists worked with colleagues across the UK to create and develop EvoFIT, which works with victims and eyewitnesses to build a composite picture of a suspect’s face.

Many police forces across the UK and abroad use the system, with 3000 composites created and counting, leading to an arrest rate four times more effective than traditional methods.

The technology combines computing and psychology expertise, using a novel method for interviewing witnesses and presenting composites. Its technique of animated caricature and the holistic-cognitive interview approach have both been adopted by other facial composite systems.


Our Psychology research was rated in the top 25% across the UK. 86% of our Psychology research was assessed as being world-leading or internationally excellent, 8% higher than the average in the Unit of Assessment across the UK. 100% of case studies was recognised as world-leading in terms of impact.

Retail researchers at Stirling Management School are shaping the future for town centres and inspiring innovative regeneration projects. Stirling has a proud history in informing retail planning policy development in Scotland over the past three decades, evaluating the efficacy of national retail planning policies.

Their recent research findings have enhanced new retail development policies and were critical to the establishment of both the £60m Town Centre Regeneration Fund and Business Improvement Districts in Scotland.

This research has also led to a tighter local and national Government focus on town centre regeneration and the development of a learning network, now known as Scotland’s Towns Partnership. The health of Scotland’s high streets was bolstered with new data in December showing the average vacancy rate has fallen across Scotland in 2014.


Our management research was ranked in the top 25% in its field across the UK in REF2014, with more than 90% having a world-leading or internationally excellent impact.

Social scientists are shaping policy in support of children, vulnerable adults and older people. 

As many as one in ten children in the UK may experience neglect. Stirling research into identifying and helping neglected children has had significant impact on child protection policy development and professional practice in Scotland and England. The Stirling research, which formed part of the UK Government-funded ‘Safeguarding Children Research Initiative’ (SCRI), led to the development of a range of training materials and learning resources used by child safeguarding agencies across England and clinical staff in NHS Scotland.

Stirling researchers have also been at the forefront of evaluating the efficacy of free personal care in Scotland. Recent research highlighted the variation in value for money and the critical role of unpaid carers. It also found a lack of cross-border migration, a predicted problem as a result of the policy. Using an economic model developed at Stirling, the research also analysed the costs of self-directed support for older people and family caregivers, discovering rising costs due to the demographic change and the shift towards home-based care. Self-directed support, which empowers people to direct their own care, was subsequently implemented as an Act of Scottish Parliament in April 2014. 


Over three quarters of our research in social work and social policy was rated as either world-leading or internationally excellent in REF2014, significantly above the 69% UK average in the Unit of Assessment. The impact of all of our research in this field, in terms of its reach and significance, was judged to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

Communications, Media and Culture research considered the possibility of an alternative digital network to provide public service broadcasting competition to the BBC in Scotland. The recommendations, published in The Scottish Digital Network Panel report, were adopted by the Scottish Government.

This was just one of a series of major contributions to the policy formation process and public awareness around the growing challenge posed by the media needs of Scottish civil society, addressing the paradox between Scotland’s increasing political autonomy and diminishing media platforms.

It was complemented with sustained involvement in consultation and debate about press and broadcasting policy in the context of parliamentary, media industry and media consumer initiatives and events, building on a wealth of experience in the history of the Scottish media, film and television industries.


Research into the media requirements of Scottish civil society is a notable example of the work of our academics in Communications, Media and Culture. The impact of all our Communications, Media and Culture research was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent in REF2014. Similarly, 100% of our work in this area was carried out in an environment conducive to the creation of world-leading or internationally excellent research. 

The City of Stirling has a rich history so where better for historians to lead projects enabling local communities to re-connect with their cultural heritage and historic environments. Through History Tomorrow, Stirling historians have run a series of successful projects which give communities the knowledge and skills to restore a sense of possession of their own histories.

Projects in partnership with Heritage Lottery Fund include an oral history record of the former industries of Prestongrange in East Lothian which has prompted plans for museum expansion. Another key project, the Ochils Landscape Partnership (OLP) inspired local volunteers to discover remains relating to a 12th Century hunting lodge.

In each project, community volunteers are trained and empowered to undertake their own research as well as become trainers themselves, passing on their new-found knowledge through schools programmes and giving them the confidence to participate fully in community planning debates.


Re-engaging local communities with their historical environment is one area of our History research submitted in REF2014. The impact of all our research submitted in this area was judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent. 90% was assessed as carried out in an environment which nurtures world-leading or internationally excellent research. 

Biological and Environmental Scientists at Stirling are leading research into bumblebees, with huge importance for their future survival.

Urgent action is required with current bumblebee populations too small to survive in the long-term. Research at Stirling, into everything from ecology, foraging range and dietary requirements of the bumblebee, to the damaging effects of agricultural pesticides, has enabled a clear picture to be emerged on how to conserve bumblebees.

Translating this bumblebee biology into conservation measures, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) was established at Stirling and now has 8000 paying members and offices in Scotland, England and Wales. It has inspired more than 12,000 people to get involved in bumblebee conservation projects, providing education packs to primary schools and linking in with nationwide Garden Centres and supermarket chain Morrisons to create a flower-rich habitat.

The Trust set up the first ever Bumblebee nature reserve, created more than 2000 hectares of habitat and co-ordinated a project to reintroduce the extinct short-haired bumblebee to the UK. They also meet with the National Farmers' Union to promote more bee-friendly farming and crucially their research played a key role in the European Union announcing a two-year moratorium on use of neonicotinoid insecticides on flowering crops.


80% of the research conducted by our Biological and Environmental Scientists, in areas as diverse as bumblebee conservation and environmental radioactivity, was rated as having world-leading or internationally excellent impact in REF2014.

Tilapia is a farmed fish of fundamental importance to the food security of people living in poverty in less developed countries.

Ensuring high quality juvenile Tilapia are available locally is critical and an environmental project at Stirling has been instrumental in developing a novel, decentralised approach to sustainable Tilapia farming.

Following a successful pilot, the project has now been extended in Bangladesh. This work has led to a more sustainable income stream for people in hard-to-reach rural areas and improved household nutrition levels.


All of our research submitted in the new Geography, Environment and Archaeology Unit of Assessment was rated as having a world-leading or internationally excellent impact in REF2014. Three quarters of this research was assessed as carried out in an environment conducive to producing world-leading or internationally excellent research.

© University of Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland UK • Telephone +44 1786 473171 • Scottish Charity No SC011159
Portal Logon