KE and Research Administrators - It’s all about the co-*

Jon Hunt, Executive Director of Research and Enteprise, University of Bristol reflects on the 'age of knowledge exchange' - spurred on by the KEF and KEC - and finds it's an exciting time to be a KE professionals.  

With the dawn of the KEF and nearly 20 years of HEIF funding, what reflections and lessons do we need to learn to shape the next 10 or 20 years?   Well, firstly ‘it’s all about the co-*’.  Collaboration, co-opetition, co-create and…coffee.  But seriously, there are a number of aspects to consider.  

The wider context here is a higher education system that is under more scrutiny to justify its ‘licence to operate’ under successive waves of expansion and, at the same time, wanting to be more outward looking. One manifestation of this is the burgeoning ‘civic’ movement that embraces public engagement and a sharper focus on societal impact.  For many, however, these recent positive moves are really a return to their roots as institutions that were set up in part to exchange knowledge with their local industries.  Universities are now in a position to create a new 21st century relationships with their regions that makes the most of their positions as anchor institutions, to reach people who would otherwise remain in the margins and be trusted with new knowledge.

At last there is a recognition that KE professionals are professionals, and that we really do add value.  That our most enlightened academics colleagues and senior leaders know our roles can make complex activities possible, as part of an effective team.  We all the skills, behaviours and experiences that lead to ground breaking initiatives that combine economic development outcomes with research and education.  Even the lone scholar needs us to help with impact development.  

The REF helped and now the KEF provides us with a framework for advancement, to develop professional careers for all research administrators, to demonstrate the benefits of a diversifying workforce in HE. Our roles involve verbal and technical translation, the need to know how to write business cases for non-UKRI funding, or how to contribute to ecosystems development by supporting companies and organisations, small and large. 

"For me the KEF also reinforces my view that I’ve become less bothered by what KE means and how we define it.  In my view we are probably all now KE professionals."  

The ‘bread and butter’ of what was called the Tech Transfer Office now needs to be understood by our Research Managers and Administrators.  The consequences of publishing on commercialisation, the importance of having well understood essential requirements for contracts and what universities are good for, rather than good at.

The combined power of ARMA, PraxisAuril and the Association of Technology Transfer Professionals (ATTP) has given us a roadmap for professionalisation, with various ‘Registrations’ and accolades.  I would recommend this to you. It’s an exciting time to be a KE professional.


This article first appeared in ARMA's in-house magazine 'The Protaganist', Issue 12. Reproduced with permission of the author.