First KEF release shows diverse contributions of universities and helps drive improvement


31 March 2021

Information about the ways universities help level up their local areas is one of the highlights of the data released in the first iteration of Research England’s Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) at midday today (31 March 2021).

The data, available on the KEF’s interactive and detailed new website, informs a series of metrics that look at the performance of English Higher Education Providers (HEPs) from a variety of different perspectives. These perspectives include public and community engagement, working with partners ranging from big businesses to small local firms, and how they commercialise their research.

This data shows the rich contributions English HEPs make, both economically and socially, on both local and national levels. The knowledge exchange that underpins the KEF will help promote cooperation and drive continuous improvement in the higher education sector.

Chief Executive Officer of UK Research and Innovation Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

“UKRI values the diverse and varied contributions that our higher education institutions make to society. The Knowledge Exchange Framework, published today by Research England, reflects and celebrates this diversity.

“The KEF also brings together rich accounts of how our universities engage in their local areas, contributing in varied and often innovative ways to their local communities and economies. As well as researchers and innovators, the activities captured in the framework highlight the diversity of essential roles - from technicians and project managers, to technology transfer professionals - in connecting discovery to prosperity and public good.” 

Executive Chair of Research England David Sweeney said:

“Universities engagement with society through Knowledge Exchange is an essential part of their mission alongside research and teaching. 

“The Knowledge Exchange Framework will help universities understand where their strengths are, relative to others with similar missions. It showcases a diverse picture of the tremendous work they do in their places, nationally and internationally.”

Levelling up locally

Over 100 of the institutions involved (117 out of 135) provided detailed narrative accounts of the work they do to build public and community engagement, and to promote economic growth in their local area. These narratives are published in full on the KEF website.

This is the first time that detailed, qualitative information about how HEPs build community engagement and promote growth in their local areas has been collected together in a structured and systematic way allowing for easy comparison. The narratives paint a detailed, never seen before picture of how HEPs engage with their communities to build deeper relationships and to stimulate local growth.

Examples of the kinds of projects detailed in the narratives include working with local partners to:

  • redevelop and reinvigorate previously disused brownfield sites
  • identify skill gaps and develop curricula and courses to address them
  • boost research and development to attract investment in the local area

Fair comparisons of similar institutions

The KEF compares institutions on a like-for-like basis, with similar institutions being grouped together with their peers in ‘KEF clusters’ based on factors like their size, specialisation and the intensity of their research activities. This is a more fair and balanced approach that avoids making unhelpful comparisons between incomparable institutions.

The data that underpins the KEF informs a series of metrics covering a wide range of a university’s activities. These then go into seven perspectives, for which each receives a decile score displayed in relation to the average for its cluster.

The website displays all this information in easily interpreted, visually interesting charts and graphs that allow easy comparison of institutions’ strengths. Presenting this information in an easy to use way will help them analyze their own performance in a new level of detail.

Further information

For more information about the KEF, including about clusters, perspectives and metrics, please take a look at the technical notes on the KEF website.

The majority of the data that form the metrics of the KEF comes from the long-standing HESA Higher Education Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey, supported by:

  • narratives provided by the institutions that inform the local growth and regeneration and public & community engagement perspectives
  • data provided by Innovate UK
  • data provided by Elsevier

All institutions in receipt of a Research England Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) allocation in 2019-20 are included in the exercise. Some institutions who were eligible for HEIF but did not meet the threshold for an allocation have still elected to participate in the KEF.

The clusters are not ranked, and the KEF is not a league table.

Research England will conduct a review of the first iteration of the KEF to inform how it develops in the future. The KEF is not currently used to inform funding.