Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)

Following its participation in the 2019 KEF pilot exercise, The University of Sheffield has taken part in the first Knowledge Exchange Framework initiative. KEF was introduced by Research England in 2020 as a mechanism to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public funding for knowledge exchange (KE) and to further a culture of continuous improvement in universities. It aims to enable universities to better understand and improve their own performance, as well as provide non-academic partners with more information to help them understand and access the world-class knowledge and expertise embedded in English universities.

What is KEF?

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) gathers and analyses data on the University’s knowledge exchange (KE) activity. Unlike HE-BCI (Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey) which presents KE data annually and as a basic ranking by table, KEF uses a three-year dataset and presents an individual institution’s results. 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.

KEF sits alongside the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and Research Excellence Framework (REF) as Research England’s 'third pillar of University assessment'. Research England intends to publish the KEF metrics of all HE providers in receipt of their Knowledge Exchange funding.

In addition to KEF, Research England, together with Guild HE, The National Centre for Universities and Business and Universities UK, have developed a KE Concordat, which the University has committed to. The KE Concordat is formative (looking ahead about plans for improvement) whereas the KEF is summative (looking back at what has been achieved in the past).

What is included in the KEF?

The suite of KEF metrics cover a broad range of activity with non-academic partners and grouped within the following seven perspectives:

  • Research partnerships
  • Working with business
  • Working with the public and third sector
  • Skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship
  • Local growth and regeneration
  • IP and commercialisation
  • Public and community engagement

The majority of quantitative data for the KEF comes from HE-BCI (Higher Education - Business and Community Interaction survey) and other annual HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) returns; therefore separate data submission was not required. However, three written narratives have been supplied to give institutional context and context to the ‘Local growth & regeneration’, and ‘Public and community engagement’ perspectives. The latter also included a set of self-assessed metrics for the ‘Public and community engagement’ perspective.

Why is KEF important?

Similar to data collected for TEF and REF, the KEF allows universities to survey the scope and quality of current KE activity.

The KEF results allow a university to compare its performance in each perspective with other English institutions, both compared to the sector as a whole and to the group of similar institutions within its cluster. This is an important benchmarking opportunity for the University to identify areas of success and improvement, which can inform future KE decisions. The results also allow the University to promote its success within KE, both internally and externally, to current and prospective partners and the public to promote further collaborations and community engagement.

What happens next?

The results of the KEF process are available in full online. Research England has presented each institution’s results on a dashboard, which can be drilled into for further information, including relevant aspects from the narrative statements.

KEF results provide a new perspective on the University’s KE activity and performance in addition to the standard HE-BCI survey. These results will inform the University’s ongoing KE activity, and departments will be able to use the results to identify areas of success and improvement.

What is HE-BCI?

The Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey (HE-BCI) is the main vehicle for measuring the volume and direction of interactions between UK HE providers and business and the wider community in a specified financial year (1 Aug - 31 Jul). The survey collects information on the infrastructure, capacity and strategy of HE providers, and also numeric and financial data regarding third stream activity (that is, activities concerned with the generation, use, application and exploitation of knowledge and other HE provider capabilities outside academic environments, these being distinct from the core activities of teaching and research).

The HE-BCI Survey is mandatory for HE providers in England and Wales, excluding The University of Wales (central functions).
It comprises two parts, described below. The information required for each part is held and prepared by different areas of the University then collated by Partnerships and Regional Engagement (PRE), with support from Planning, Projects and Business Intelligence (PPBI), prior to submission to HESA. HE-BCI data, from a three year collection period, are used in the majority of KEF metrics.

Part A is a largely multiple-choice questionnaire that collects information on the infrastructure, capacity and strategy of the provider.

Part B collects numerical and financial data regarding “third stream” or knowledge exchange activity, grouped into five tables.

These are described below, along with the data provider within
the University.

1. Research-related activities - data provided by Finance;
2. Business and community services - data provided by Finance;
3. Regeneration and development programmes - data provided by Finance;
4. Intellectual property - data provided by Research Services;
5. Social, community and cultural engagement (public events) - data gathered from various sources and analysed centrally.

HE-BCI data from 2014/15 onwards are available online from HESA.

HE-BCI data are used to calculate the annual Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) allocation we receive from Research England to support KE activity (approx. £4.5m per annum).

For more information on the Knowledge Exchange Framework, contact Ruth Hambleton Further details will be published online as announced.