The ‘impact agenda’ for academic research promotes the interaction and integration of universities with the wider society and, especially, with the increasingly knowledge-based economies that characterise the twenty-first century. Some see this as a desirable situation that allows academia to realise and enact its distinctive value and values. But others see this as evidence of universities’ subservience to powerful political and industry actors. In this presentation, I approach this debate through the metaphorical lens of academic ‘boundaries’. Does the intensified crossing and blurring of academic boundaries suggest an undermining of academia’s true identity, distinctiveness and autonomy? Or is it evidence of the kind of flexibility and porosity that academic boundaries must be able to demonstrate if they are to thrive and survive in an age where universities must necessarily share power and control over the production and distribution of knowledge?
I explore these issues with reference to an empirical investigation of the research based at ten UK academic departments, all of which rated highly for research ‘impact’ in the latest national assessment exercise (the Research Excellence Framework 2014). I develop the concept of ‘boundary transactions’ as mechanisms through which, with partial success, academia attempts to simultaneously cross and reinforce academic boundaries.