Knowledge exchange framework: first KEF results announced

Top-ranked global research institutions shine in many areas but lag on local growth and boosting skills

March 31, 2021
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Large research-intensive universities in England are on average in the bottom half of the sector for local growth and regeneration, according to the first results from the knowledge exchange framework.

They also score in the bottom 40 per cent of institutions on skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship, although they are firmly in the top fifth on all other aspects of knowledge exchange measured by the exercise, such as commercialisation and public engagement.

The KEF mainly uses data from an existing business and community interaction survey run by the Higher Education Statistics Agency to measure performance on areas such as partnering with industry, boosting the local economy and commercialising research.

Its release has been delayed by the pandemic after the 135 participating universities – including all those receiving innovation funding from Research England plus others that elected to take part – were given more time to provide “narrative” statements to contextualise the data.

As well as individual results for different institutions, the KEF data dashboard groups universities together in clusters according to their size, specialisation and research intensity.

The group containing the biggest research-intensive universities, including many from the Russell Group, is the only one to come in the top fifth on average across most of the seven knowledge exchange “perspectives” assessed by the KEF.

However, the group’s low average scores in the areas related to skills and entrepreneurship, and local growth, compare unfavourably with those of other clusters.

For instance, a group of large broad-based universities with “significant” public research funding, made up of both pre- and post-92 universities, came in the top half for these areas and all other perspectives but one: working with the public and third sectors.

The group with the lowest average scores across the different KEF perspectives are smaller teaching-focused universities that took part in the exercise, although they come in the top half for local growth and generation.

Research England says it will conduct a review of the first iteration of the KEF – which is not currently used to inform funding, although this has been mooted as its eventual aim – to inform how it develops in the future.

The Westminster government’s science minister, Amanda Solloway, said universities had a “critical part to play in our efforts to build back better from the pandemic – from bringing together local communities and businesses, to carrying out ambitious R&D that creates a diverse range of jobs and drives local economic growth”.

She added that the KEF would provide “a mechanism to measure performance and increase collaboration, ensuring our university sector continues delivering both economic and social benefits”.

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