Developing a Knowledge Exchange Framework to measure KE performance in England

Hamish McAlpine
Research England

Over the last 18 months, the UK has seen the launch of an ambitious new Industrial Strategy and a target to boost R&D spend as a proportion of GDP to 2.4% by 2027. The Higher Education sector has also seen significant increases in funding for Science and Research, including knowledge exchange, with core KE funding for English institutions increasing from £160 million to £250 million (c. AUD $450 million) per year by 2020/21 as part of a broader £4.7 billion (c. AUD $8.4 billion) boost to public R&D investment.

UK Universities have been increasingly successful in the past two decades at working with businesses and the public and third sectors to deliver economic and societal benefit, with income from knowledge exchange activities reaching over £4.2 billion (c. AUD $7.6 billion) in 2016/17 and an increasing focus on commercialisation and boosting economic growth. Universities are therefore seen by government as having a vital role to play in helping to deliver these government policy priorities. In 2017 Research England were commissioned by government to create a new performance measurement framework for English Higher Education Institutions, known as the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), to help them deliver on these priorities.

The KEF is expected to be an annual, institutional-level, largely metrics-driven assessment of knowledge exchange performance, providing better information for institutions to understand and improve their own knowledge exchange performance, as well as providing useful information for businesses and other users. Now at pilot stage in England, this paper describes the detailed design of the KEF, including the clustering of universities to create KE peer groups to aid fair comparison, the process through which metrics were selected, and our approach to narrative information and visualisation of the results.

This paper also discusses how future iterations of the KEF could evolve. Topics that we are exploring include integration of KEF results with other sources of information, increased data linking (particularly related to IP and spin-off activity), equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) indicators, and the feasibility of incorporating the ‘voice of the customer’ more directly into the framework, through systematic surveys of businesses and others interacting with universities. Finally, I briefly reflect on similarities and differences to the Australian Engagement and Impact (EI) exercise.