Work to develop knowledge exchange comparison framework gets under way

Work to develop knowledge exchange comparison framework gets under way

1 December 2017

The development of a new Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) metrics system was announced in October by the Universities Minister Jo Johnson, and highlighted in the Government’s recent Industrial Strategy White Paper. The Minister has commissioned HEFCE to prepare the implementation of the policy, which will be managed by Research England (RE) from April 2018.

The KEF metrics system will provide more information for the public and businesses on the performance of universities in knowledge exchange – how they share knowledge, expertise and other assets for the benefit of the economy and society. The aim is to provide regularly updated data that enables fair comparison between institutions’ performance in knowledge exchange. This will help to support further improvements in universities and promote accountability, responsiveness to economic and societal needs and effective use of public funds.

The KEF metrics will help support the Industrial Strategy, which includes the commitment announced on 27 November to increase Higher Education Innovation Funding to £250 million by 2020-21. This increase will allow Universities to work with businesses of all sizes to support the delivery of the Industrial Strategy in diverse ways.

The technical group, chaired by Professor Richard Jones FRS, University of Sheffield, will advise HEFCE and later RE on the design and delivery of the new KEF metrics system. The group’s members have been chosen to provide expertise in knowledge exchange metrics and external insights on performance.

To inform the work of the group, HEFCE has issued a survey calling for evidence on questions such as what kind of approach and which data could best be used to develop a KEF metrics system. Higher education institutions and other stakeholders, including from the business community, are encouraged to submit their answers online by Tuesday 30 January 2018.

The group aims to provide advice to enable Research England to consult the higher education sector and others on specific proposals in spring 2018, with a view to finalising the scheme in autumn 2018.

Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University, has been leading work on the principles and good practices of university knowledge exchange since 2015. He will continue to do so, including providing advice to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). For the KEF metrics system, Professor McMillan and his university expert group will advise on the value of the exercise for good practice development within universities.

David Sweeney, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE and Executive Chair Designate of Research England, said:

‘Universities deliver a rich range and diversity of knowledge exchange activities that bring economic and other benefits to society, as well as to specific businesses. Providing better, detailed information on this service will help make the case to the wider public that universities matter, helping solve real world challenges of today. Better information should also capture strengths and weaknesses, giving universities rich information to help them target their resources effectively, and also informing the decisions of funders, business and others in their partnership and investment decisions.’

Professor Richard Jones, chair of the technical group, said:

‘I am very pleased to be asked to chair this technical group; knowledge exchange is a crucial function of universities which, done well, can create very substantial economic and other benefits for their regions and the nation as a whole.

‘The very high-quality, independent experts who will constitute this group will be focused on the task of delivering the public benefits intended from the new KEF system. We will undertake a detailed examination of all available evidence, particularly seeking out views from businesses and other external beneficiaries of university knowledge exchange. We will be intellectually rigorous in our work, developing an approach that will be useful to the intended audiences and will permit fair and meaningful comparisons of the effectiveness of knowledge exchange across our diverse range of higher education institutions.

‘We aim to publish details of the evidence we have collected, and our workings, alongside the proposals that Research England takes forward, for scrutiny by Government and stakeholders both inside and outside universities.’

Policy details, and the commission to begin developing KEF metrics, were given in a letter from the Universities Minister to the Research England Executive Director Designate on 27 November 2017:

Download the Letter from the Universities Minister to the Research England Executive Director Designate as PDF (118 KB)


  1. The establishment of a system of Knowledge Exchange Framework metrics was announced in a speech by the Universities Minister at HEFCE’s annual conference in October 2017.
  2. The new system was highlighted in the Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper, ‘Building a Britain fit for the future’, on 27 November 2017.  
  3. Research England will work with the other Councils in UKRI, and also welcome input from the other devolved funding bodies and from the Office for Students.
  4. The members of the KEF metrics technical advisory group are:
    • Chair: Professor Richard Jones, FRS, Professor of Physics, University of Sheffield. EPSRC Council Member.
    • Tomas Coates Ulrichsen, Research Associate, Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation, University of Cambridge.
    • Alice Frost, Head of Knowledge Exchange policy, HEFCE / Research England.
    • Alice Hu Wagner, Managing Director for Strategy, Economics and Markets, British Business Bank.
    • Professor Graeme Reid, Professor of Science and Research Policy, University College London. Member of the Research England Council.
    • Mr Peter Saraga CBE, FREng, Senior Independent Member on the Research England Council. Former Managing Director of Philips Research Laboratories UK, Chair of HEFCE’s UKRPIF panel, and formerly President of the Institute of Physics and Vice-President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
    • Stian Westlake, Policy Adviser to the Minister for State for Universities, Research and Innovation at Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
    • BEIS observer: Carolyn Reeve / Thomas Crawley.
    • HEFCE / Office for Students observers: Mario Ferelli, Richard Puttock
    • Higher Educations Statistics Agency (HESA) observer: Andy Youell, Director of Data Policy and Governance, HESA.
    • Head of secretariat: Hamish McAlpine, HEFCE / Research England
  5. Read more about KEF metrics on the HEFCE website.
  6. Read more about KEF principles on the HEFCE website.