Campuses warn against metrics-only knowledge exchange framework

Universities say they must be able to supplement metrics with contextual or narrative information

November 19, 2018
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English universities have said that they must be given the chance to supplement metrics used in the forthcoming knowledge exchange framework with contextual information.

The results of a call for evidence on the KEF, published by Research England on 19 November, report “almost universal” support for the use of narrative information in the assessment of universities’ performance in areas such as commercialisation, collaborative research and consulting to be compared on a like-for-like basis.

The KEF has been expected to be largely based on metrics, but the approach advocated by universities draws on the methodology of the research excellence framework, in which peer review judgements about quality are sometimes supplemented by citation data.

Scores allocated in KEF are expected to be used to inform the allocation of sources of support such as the Higher Education Innovation Fund. The first exercise is expected to be conducted in the 2019-20 academic year.

The call for evidence, which attracted 106 responses, found support for the use of narrative information ranging from peer-reviewed narrative statements or case studies, or contextual information such as that found in institutional knowledge exchange strategies.

Respondents also suggested datasets that could be drawn on for metrics, such as the Higher Education Business & Community Interaction survey, patent citations, and statistics on industry co-authorship and student activities such as placements.

Many respondents suggested that the adoption of a “gold”, “silver” and “bronze” rating system, as employed in the teaching excellence framework, would “oversimplify what is a complex area”.

A consultation on how the KEF will work in practice will be opened towards the end of 2018 and close in early 2019.

Alongside the call for evidence, Research England also published a cluster analysis that gives universities the first indication of which institutions their performance will be compared against.

The UK government has previously indicated that universities should be banded by type in the forthcoming assessment, allowing their strength to be compared on a like-for-like basis.

The analysis by Tomas Coates Ulrichsen, a research associate at the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy at the University of Cambridge, explains that the banding is a reflection of “systematic differences in the structural characteristics” of universities, on the understanding that their individual potential for knowledge exchange will vary.

“The process does not seek to make any value judgement on whether one cluster is in some way better or more valuable than another; only that they are structurally different,” the report concludes.

There are five separate clusters of teaching and research universities, and separate clusters for specialist institutions.

However, Research England said that it would “further develop this analysis, including manually assigning some universities to different clusters” ahead of the consultation.

Alice Frost, Research England’s director of knowledge exchange, said there was a “great deal of work going on behind the scenes” to support the development of the KEF.

“It’s essential we get a broad range of views to ensure the KEF is a useful tool for universities and users. We hope this information will give an indication of the direction of travel and help HEIs prepare for the consultation,” she said.

Proposed knowledge exchange framework clusters

Cluster ‘E’: Anglia Ruskin University; Aston University; University of Bedfordshire; Bournemouth University; University of Bradford; University of Brighton; University of Central Lancashire; City, University of London; Coventry University; De Montfort University; Goldsmiths, University of London; University of Greenwich; University of Hertfordshire; University of Huddersfield; Kingston University; University of Lincoln; Liverpool John Moores University; Manchester Metropolitan University; Middlesex University; Northumbria University; Nottingham Trent University; The Open University; Oxford Brookes University; University of Plymouth; University of Portsmouth; University of Salford; Sheffield Hallam University; University of the West of England; University of Westminster.

Cluster ‘J’: Birmingham City University; University of Bolton; Canterbury Christ Church University; University of Chester; University of Derby; University of East London; University of Gloucestershire; Leeds Beckett University; London Metropolitan University; London South Bank University; University of Northampton; University of Roehampton; Staffordshire University; University of Sunderland; Teesside UniversityUniversity of Wolverhampton; University of Worcester.

Cluster ‘M’: Bath Spa University; Bucks New University; University of Chichester; University of Cumbria; Edge Hill University; Falmouth University; Leeds Trinity University; Liverpool Hope University; Newman University; St Mary’s University, Twickenham; Solent University; Plymouth Marjon University; University of Suffolk; University of West London; University of Winchester; York St John University.

Cluster ‘V’: University of Birmingham; University of Bristol; University of Cambridge; Imperial College London; King’s College London; University of Leeds; University of Liverpool; University of Manchester; Newcastle UniversityUniversity of Nottingham; University of Oxford; Queen Mary University of LondonUniversity of Sheffield; University of Southampton; UCL; University of Warwick.

Cluster ‘X’: University of Bath; Birkbeck, University of London; Brunel University London; Durham UniversityUniversity of East Anglia; University of Essex; University of Exeter; University of Hull; Keele University; University of Kent; Lancaster University; University of Leicester; London School of Economics and Political Science; Loughborough University; University of Reading; Royal Holloway, University of London; Soas, University of London; University of Surrey; University of Sussex; University of York.

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