Our impact on society and the economy recognised by new national framework

This week sees the publication of a new framework highlighting the wide range of activities that UK universities carry out with external partners for the benefit of the economy and society.

Here, Vice-President for Innovation, Professor Dave Petley, discusses the results of the first ever Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) and what this means for the innovation pillar of our University vision.

Wording from video:

"This week sees the publication of a new framework for UK universities highlighting the diversity and impact of the contributions we make to society.

"The Knowledge Exchange Framework, or KEF, looks specifically at the knowledge exchange activities of universities, and will sit alongside the more established Teaching Excellence Framework, the TEF, and the Research Excellence Framework, the REF.

"This is a really exciting development that reflects the objective we have in our own vision to make knowledge exchange and impact a core mission of the University, alongside research and education.

"The data in the framework clearly demonstrates our diverse research strengths and ability to work with a huge variety of sectors and community groups to find solutions to the challenges facing society today.

"The results of the KEF place us amongst the top universities in England for working with businesses, working with the public and the third sector, for public and community engagement and for IP and commercialisation.

"I'm really proud of our results, and I want to say thank you to the very many academic and professional services staff and colleagues who carry out and support our knowledge exchange activities.

"The framework will help us to better understand where our strengths are relative to similar institutions, and I'm really looking forward to continuing to work with you to grow and strengthen our impact, knowledge exchange and innovation activity."

Knowledge exchange describes the wide range of activities universities undertake with partners. And here at the University we work with a huge variety of partners across many sectors and community groups to find solutions to challenges facing society and industry.

The new Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) will help us to better understand and improve these knowledge exchange activities, and we will work through the results to examine any areas that need further development. Here are just a few examples of the incredible work happening across the University:

University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC)

The KEF includes narratives which paint a picture of how higher education providers can stimulate local growth. Over the past 20 years, the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has shown how effective the model of an academic-business partnership can be to stimulate local growth. It has attracted global brands such as McLaren and Boeing to open new facilities in the North, as well as empowered Sheffield City Region’s own homegrown manufacturing leaders and SMEs.

Our partnerships with SMEs

Other examples of working with business can be demonstrated by our partnerships with SMEs from across the Sheffield City Region, enabling them to prosper and grow.

For example, District Eating – a specialist horticultural site and consultancy based in the city - develops indoor growing sites that create jobs, increase food security and promote economic growth while reducing the emissions and congestion associated with excessive food transportation. District Eating partnered with us to increase its in-house knowledge of commercialisation of low carbon combustion equipment and worked with the Translational Energy Research Centre, which is part of our Energy Institute, to create tools for one of their clients to help attract investors.

Through initiatives such as RISE, we also work in collaboration with SMEs in the city to provide access to graduate talent, skills and innovation while also providing graduates with access to employment opportunities, career progression and the chance to make an impact in the region.

University spin-out companies

Growth, impact and innovation are also driven by companies that spin out of the University, such as Diurnal Group plc – a specialist pharmaceutical company that develops innovative treatments for patients with hormone deficiencies to aid lifelong treatment for rare and chronic endocrine conditions.

Public engagement activities

Knowledge exchange also includes public engagement activities where academics communicate their research with the public through festivals, cultural celebrations, open events, lectures and school activities. We collaborate with groups and organisations from across the city to co-create projects and activities which contribute to the city’s cultural vibrancy.

For example, Festival of the Mind showcases local creative talent and world-class academic research through a series of events held across the city every two years. We also bring Off the Shelf, one of the largest literary festivals in the UK, to Sheffield each year, adding to the city’s cultural vibrancy. Between 2016 and 2019, 203,000 people attended University-led events with a further 400,000 visitors to key city partner events.

Are you looking for support or guidance to progress with an idea that involves knowledge exchange?

If you want to work with a partner, if you have a commercial proposal, if you need to understand impact, or if you’re looking for a personal development opportunity, speak to the Partnerships and Regional Engagement team for help and support.


For more information about the KEF, visit our partnerships and regional engagement web pages

To explore the KEF results: visit Research England

Read our press release: University of Sheffield recognised for its impact on society and the economy