A Concordat for High Standards in Knowledge Exchange

Sean Fielding, Chair of PraxisAuril, blogs about today's launch of the KE Concordat (KEC).

I am delighted to see the KEF Concordat published today.  PraxisAuril has been closely involved with the development of the Concordat with both me and Tony Raven, CEO of Cambridge Enterprise, on the drafting group.

Our view is that the Concordat will be another important tool to demonstrate that the UK's KE sector is world leading and highly effective. The proposals in the Concordat - to ensure that universities provide proper training, best practice sharing and recognition and accreditation of skills for KE and academic staff - will be welcomed by the 107 UK universities that are already members of PraxisAuril because of the conferences, training and resources that we provide. PraxisAuril now has 185 members drawn from around the world, which is recognition of the high reputation of UK knowledge exchange.

All across the world, governments are keen to see the result of their expenditure in R&D.  Recently Australia published its Engagement and Impact Assessment ratings which link to their ERA, the equivalent of the REF.  Hong Kong is embarking on its first ever RAE with Impact as a key component and the US is bracing itself for the outcomes of their 'Return on Investment Initiative for Unleashing American Innovation'.  The UK was well represented at the AUTM conference in Texas in February, which is the biggest gathering of KE professionals in the world. I, along with a group of international KE leaders, presented on the various ways of measuring success including our own KEF. We couldn’t believe how popular our session was. It seems that government interest piques our attention.

Of course plans are well underway for the UK’s next REF with its focus on Impact and I’d be surprised if there isn’t a knowledge exchange office in the country that hasn’t been drawn into this work.  And it’s important that we are because the returns from Impact can be quite significant, about £50-£100K per annum for each case study: for a university like Exeter, with over 100 case studies, that will certainly be more than the normal return from an early stage technology license or a spin-out.  

Our annual HE-BCI survey came out recently too and it was gratifying to see an increase in overall income of 6% to £4.5 billion with a 40% increase in IP exploitation income specifically.  The Australian National Survey of Research Commercialisation (NSRC) notes a continuous upward trend since it started in 2000, as does the annual AUTM survey. There is no shortage of monitoring, which means that what we do must be important.  It turns out that all governments think that they have great research systems, but a dreadful track record on innovation – that their scientists are good at discovering things but lack the expertise to build the partnerships needed to turn research into economic and social success. But as HE-BCI shows, it’s just not true. External investment in spin-outs reached a record level of £1.4 billion in 2017/18 (from £970 million) demonstrating how universities are responding to expectations from government to drive economic growth, create jobs and increase R&D levels in the UK. The fact that SETsquared, the enterprise partnership between Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey, has been recognised as the world’s leading university-led business incubator since 2015 tells its own tale.

In the future we can expect to be asked to account ever more closely for the money that we spend in the pursuit of knowledge and discovery by demonstrating its value on society. We have nothing to fear on that front. The HE-BCI data is a vote of confidence in UK university expertise and know-how and it’s good to see this recognised by our partners. UK knowledge exchange is a key part of building a 21st century knowledge economy and getting to the 2.4% R&D target. UK universities are taking their role in this very seriously and we welcome the Concordat as a useful tool to demonstrate the high standards that are already being achieved and to show how UK knowledge exchange can become the best in the world.

The PraxisAuril conference in Harrogate (12-14 June 2019) is the perfect way to find out how UK knowledge exchange professionals drive great collaborations between universities and business and help to shape tomorrow. I hope to see you there.

Sean Fielding  RTTP
Director of Innovation, Impact and Business 
University of Exeter

Chair, PraxisAuril 2019-21