Knowledge exchange framework (KEF)

The aim of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) is 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 will allow universities to better understand and improve their own performance, as well as provide businesses and other users with more information to help them access the world-class knowledge and expertise embedded in English HEPs.

KEF background

Work to create the KEF began in 2017, when the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation commissioned the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to provide more information about HEP achievements in serving the economy and society for the benefit of the public, business and communities,

Research England assumed responsibility for this as part of its wider KE policy and funding remit in April 2018.

KEF Consultation and pilot outcomes report

In January 2019 we published a consultation on our proposals for the KEF. We launched this consultation in response to the commission set out in the Government's Industrial Strategy White Paper, asking us to develop a Knowledge Exchange Framework, detailed in a November 2017 ministerial letter.  An offline export of the consultation questions can be found here and a video walkthrough of the proposed KEF dashboard is available below.

Proposed KEF Dashboard Visualisation Video

At the same time, we also invited English Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to participate in a pilot exercise to further test and refine the proposals outlined in the consultation. We selected 21 institutions in order to provide a broad geographical, subject and cluster distribution across England.  Participants engaged in a series of workshops between March and May 2019. 

The KEF consultation and pilot outcomes report which presented a summary of the main themes emerging from the consultation responses and the pilot discussions was published in August 2019.

KEF decision reports

In January 2020 we published the KEF decisions report setting out how we will implement the first iteration of the KEF.  The report explains our decisions on its design, including the metrics, inclusion of narrative statements and how and when we expect to publish the results. The KEF forms part of our KE policy work and will sit alongside the sector-led KE concordat, which is currently in development.

Detailed descriptions of the source data for each metric (e.g. the HE-BCI table references) are presented in a separate download alongside the report.

The decisions report was followed in March 2020 by the publication of the KEF clustering and templates report   which provided further detail on clustering and narrative statements to be included in the first iteration of the KEF.

KEF webinars for participating higher education providers

In March and April 2020 Research England hosted two webinars to assist higher education providers participating in the KEF with their preparations.  The following recordings are available:

  • KEF background information – a recording of a short power-point presentation to provide background to the decisions of the first iteration of the KEF. 
  • KEF webinar recording – a recording of the webinar hosted on 1 April 2020 by Research England, in in conjunction with the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE)

In addition to the recordings, the webinar slide pack and collation of the Q&A transcripts from the webinars are available on request from the KEF team by contacting

KEF implementation – Covid-19 amendment to timescales

In April 2020 we published a circular letter outlining the revised timescales for the KEF to allow for the disruption caused to higher education providers by the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.

The revised deadlines are as follows:

  • Friday 2 October 2020 – Deadline for HEPs eligible to participate in the KEF, but not currently in receipt of HEIF, to submit notice of intention to submit KEF narratives.
  • Friday 16 October 2020 – Deadline for eligible HEPs intending to participate in the KEF to submit full narrative statements.

Sign up to email alerts

Subscribe to the KEF Jiscmail list to receive notification of any announcements relating to the KEF.

Next steps for knowledge exchange

In September 2019 Universities Minister Chris Skidmore announced a number of measures that mark a new direction for knowledge exchange.

You can read the full transcript of the minister's speech here.

You can find the answers to some of the FAQ's arising from the minister's speech here.


What is the implementation plan?

We anticipate that the first KEF results will be published in December 2020, drawing on the latest 2018-19 official statistics gathered by Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) via the Higher Education - Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) dataset and other sources as advised in the final decisions. The initially proposed timescale has been delayed due to the disruption to higher education providers by the Covid-19 pandemic.

What will be changing from the proposals that you consulted on?

As set out in our publication ‘Knowledge Exchange Framework: Outcomes of Consultation and Pilot Exercise’, we have undertaken a thorough analysis of information received during both the consultation and the pilot. Whilst we believe that the fundamental design of the KEF as proposed is sound, there were several areas of focus (e.g. on some individual metrics and structure of narrative templates) that were changed as detailed in the final decisions report published in January 2020.

Is the KEF compulsory?

Research England intend to publish the KEF metrics of all providers in receipt of our Knowledge Exchange funding in winter 2020-21. We will also publish the narrative information from those providers that choose to submit them. We will then evaluate the results with a view to making full participation a condition of our funding from academic year 2020-21.

Whilst the narrative statements will not be compulsory in AY2019-20, we believe that the narratives add valuable contextual information and we would strongly recommend HEPs in receipt of our funding submit them.

Will we have to collect new metrics?

No. For this iteration, all metrics are derived from currently collected data. As the narrative information will be compiled by individual providers, if you choose to submit narratives, you may wish to include data or evidence that you do not currently hold, but this is your decision.

How will the KEF be linked to funding?

There will be no immediate link to funding and HEIF will continue to be allocated via the current method. We will evaluate the first iteration of the KEF with a view to making participation a condition of our funding from academic year.

Further, we are committing to a longer-term evaluation of our funding methods as described above. We believe that KEF is likely to provide important tools to measure and reward KE performance and delivery of key Government priorities, and could therefore provide the basis for a new method of allocating funds in the future.

How does the HE-BCI review link to KEF?

The major review of the HE-BCI survey announced by HESA is likely to provide new metrics related to knowledge exchange which could feed into future iterations of the KEF. We will continue to work closely with HESA on the review.

Which stakeholders are you working with to develop the KEF?

Research England is working with various stakeholders to develop the KEF, including HEPs, learned societies, PraxisAuril, the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), the devolved funding councils and other UKRI councils.

The exercise aims to provide timely data that describes and compares institutional-level performance in knowledge exchange.

Professor Richard Jones of the University of Sheffield, chaired a technical advisory group (TAG) to advise Research England on the development of the KEF metrics approach. The group’s members were chosen to provide expertise in KE metrics and external insights on performance. Professor McMillan, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University and the KE steering group advised on the value of the KEF metrics exercise for good practice development within universities.

Call for evidence

An initial call to submit evidence to the technical advisory group was conducted by HEFCE at the end of 2017. The responses to this, together with other technical work have informed the development of the metrics framework.

A total of 106 responses were received and an overview of responses is available here.

Cluster analysis of higher education providers

A key objective of the KEF is to enable a fair comparison of providers across a diverse sector. Research England commissioned work to produce statistical clusters of providers, based on their underlying assets and capabilities that drive their potential KE performance.

The technical report of the cluster analysis is available here.

Note on the relevance and use of UKRI (Research Council) data in the development of the KEF

The KEF team have examined a wide variety of data and information on KE activities currently collected from universities and researchers. We have prepared a technical note to consider the relevance and use of two UKRI data sources in the development of the KEF: Research Council grant funding to providers and research outcomes as disclosed by researchers to Researchfish®.

Further information

For further information about the Knowledge Exchange Framework, please contact