Knowledge Exchange Framework Metrics: A Cluster Analysis of Higher Education Institutions

This technical report presents a cluster analysis of English Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to inform the development of the Knowledge Exchange Framework Metrics. The cluster groups presented and the methodology and data used will form part of the forthcoming KEF consultation, although it is important to note that the clusters presented in this report should not be taken as the final arrangement. For example, we note the conclusions in this report asks us to consider manually re-allocating institutions to other clusters, particularly where an institution is clustered with other specialists in a small cluster. We will take a transparent and cooperative approach to manual cluster assignment during the formal consultation period.

It is important to recognise the diversity of types of HEIs that exist in a national innovation system such as that of the UK.  This diversity of institution sees different types of HEIs contributing in different ways to different socio-economic, technological, industrial and regional challenges.  Importantly, structural differences between HEIs, coupled with their local economic context, shape both KE opportunities and barriers.  Recognising this, the analysis in this report sought to identify groups of HEIs based on similarities in the structural characteristics that shape KE opportunities and challenges, to enable more appropriate comparisons of knowledge exchange (KE) performance.

It is very important that cluster analyses are driven by a conceptual understanding of KE.  The broad approach adopted builds on discussions at the initial KEF Technical Advisory Group (TAG) meeting and assumes that KE opportunities for HEIs are underpinned by the knowledge and physical capabilities available to them.  These provide a ‘capability base’ which can be thought of as quasi-fixed in the short- to medium-term, but can change over the longer-term through investments in research, teaching and related physical capital.  In adopting this approach, assessments of KE performance should then focus on how well a university, given its knowledge and physical assets, is able to pursue KE opportunities and, through these, deliver socio-economic impacts.