Jo Johnson plans for KEF to measure knowledge exchange

Framework to measure university-business links would follow TEF and REF

October 12, 2017

The government wants to develop a “knowledge excellence framework” for English universities, the universities and science minister has announced.

Jo Johnson outlined the plan, which he says will be consulted on with the sector, in a speech today at the annual conference of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a statement on the plans that the UK “still lags behind comparable countries like the United States in terms of intellectual property income per research resource and the number of successful spin-off companies”.

The KEF, if created, would go alongside the existing teaching excellence framework and the research excellence framework as attempts to measure the quality of what universities do.

It is not yet clear how often the assessment will take place, but the minister said that there was a “strong case” for setting strict measurements for university progress, and confirmed that universities could endanger their funding if they did not meet the expectations of the new framework.

“We do anticipate that allocations for Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) will be informed by the outcomes of the knowledge exchange framework,” he told Times Higher Education.

In addition, HEIF is to be allocated a further £40 million from the government, Mr Johnson said, bringing the total to £200 million for the 2018-19 academic year.

Addressing university leaders, Mr Johnson said that universities must do more to strengthen links with businesses and local communities.

“Universities have a vital role to play in their local communities and in the national economy. Given the record levels of public investment in R&D, it is essential that universities engage with businesses and communities to make the most of their knowledge and research.

“There are great examples of this across the country, but the system needs to find a new gear. University income from business engagement is growing more slowly than the economy as a whole, with British universities producing fewer spin-outs and less licensing income per pound of research resource than US counterparts. As a greater proportion of R&D takes place in universities in the UK than in other countries, it’s especially important that we get this right.”

The minister announced plans to ask the new Research England to consult the sector on the development of a KEF to benchmark performance in university-business collaboration and knowledge exchange.

“Alongside the research excellence framework and the teaching excellence framework, the KEF will act as a benchmark for universities to ensure they are making the most of the opportunities available and help ensure that the UK benefits from the research, skills and knowledge in the higher education sector,” BEIS said.

In full: Jo Johnson's speech to Hefce 2017

Mr Johnson also called on the industry to expand on international collaboration in science and innovations, referencing a recent agreement signed with the US. “Internationally co-authored articles achieve higher citation levels and it is important this is not compromised,” he said.

In a bid to attract talent to the UK post-Brexit, the minister announced an additional £18 million for the Rutherford Fund, enabling an extra 200 fellowships to begin in the current financial year.

The first round of projects to receive funding from the £100 million Connecting Capability Fund were also announced. Focusing on university collaborations to boost the commercialisation of research, the first round will see groups of universities from England share £20 million to address areas such as age-related diseases, access to finance for spin-outs, and support for SMEs as they scale up.

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Reader's comments (1)

The political interference in, and heavy-handed, prescriptive management of, our universities, renders them more like mini-Soviet states, replete with Ministerial diktats, five-year plans, idiotic targets, and constant monitoring. All this from a political party/government which denounces red-tape and State control! A private company which endured just 5% of this ridiculous, hyperactive, political meddling, would go out of business in a matter of weeks.