KEF3 gives insights on emerging trends in performance improvement

Multiracial group of business people sitting around a table and talking

The latest Knowledge Exchange Framework results allow year-by-year comparison for the first time, showcasing new capabilities to highlight improvement areas.

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) has consistently provided unique and important public information on the rich and diverse ways English universities continue to engage with society and our economy, locally, nationally, and internationally.

KEF3 provides the first opportunity to look at trends over time in performance of English higher education providers (HEPs) between the annual iterations of the framework.

Research England has provided initial insights to demonstrate these capabilities of the framework in the critical area of business engagement. These are explored in more detail in a blog published on the NCUB website.

Comparison between results

The third iteration of the KEF uses an unchanged technical methodology from the robust approach presented in KEF2. Therefore, it enables not only comparison of results between HEPs and their peers, but also between results in these two iterations.

It does this through a number of lenses, including across types of universities and types of knowledge activities.

KEF is well settled in its current design, which is regarded as a sound approach to performance comparison in KE. Thus it meets its recently focused purpose of providing universities with performance information and enabling their improvement.

Successes of its predecessors

The third iteration of KEF consolidates the successes of its predecessors, as a positively regarded performance framework improving the status of KE, driving strategic and evolved approaches, and helping to improve data.

KEF plays a critical role in seeking to describe the breadth of KE, setting a challenge to national policy, data and funding, to live up to this aspiration.

This development of KEF, in conjunction with Research England’s development of a national KE metrics centre, continues our trajectory towards delivering the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology priority of using KEF in funding.

Demonstrates the diversity of universities

KEF demonstrates the range of valuable activities universities conduct with external partners across seven perspectives.

These perspectives include working with partners ranging from big businesses to small local firms, local growth, public and community engagement and how higher education commercialises research.

It also demonstrates the diversity of universities that deliver important activities for our economy and society.

The new dashboards are available on the KEF’s interactive website.

Continues to be a powerful tool

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Executive Chair of Research England, said:

Across the breadth of higher education, institutions make rich and diverse contributions to the economy and society through their knowledge exchange activities.

Research England is delighted to announce today the publication of the latest version of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF3). The KEF continues to be a powerful tool to describe the breadth of scope of knowledge exchange. It also provides important evidence of different university strengths through peer group comparisons.

KEF is now in its third year and the method has been rigorously tested and begins to give us a picture of changes in performance over time. Research England’s knowledge exchange experts have presented some findings from KEF3 on comparative trends in the important government priority area of business engagement, as a taster of how it may be used as an analytical tool on sector performance dynamics. I look forward to discussion on how we can use the KEF further as we gather data over multiple years.

Based on recent data

Elements of KEF3 have been updated to ensure that it is appropriately based on the most recent data and evidence (further details in listed in the further information section).

For more information about the KEF, including about clusters, perspectives and metrics, please take a look at the technical notes on the KEF website.

Research England will continue to publish future iterations of the KEF annually. KEF is not currently used to inform funding.

Further information

The majority of the data that form the metrics of the KEF continues to comes from the long-standing Higher Education Statistics Agency (part of Jisc) Higher Education Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey, supported by:

  • narratives provided by the institutions for the first iteration that inform the local growth and regeneration and public and community engagement perspectives
  • data provided by Innovate UK
  • data provided by Elsevier

All institutions in receipt of a Research England Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) allocation in 2022 to 2023 are included in the exercise. Some institutions who were eligible for HEIF but did not meet the threshold for an allocation have still elected to participate in KEF.

The clusters are not ranked, and KEF is not a league table.

Updates in this iteration of KEF are:

  • the ‘KE clusters’ used that enables KEF to compare institutions on a like-for-like basis, with similar institutions being grouped together with their peers, have been updated ahead of this iteration by Research England.
    This is a fair and balanced approach that avoids making unhelpful comparisons between incomparable institutions. Clustering has been instrumental in demonstrating the value of universities of all sizes and specialisms and their contributions to the UK economy
  • the second area that has been updated is the detailed, qualitative information submitted by HEPs about how they build community engagement and promote growth in their local areas. These have been updated by HEPs using an improved guidance template to reflect their most recent activity
  • KEF results are determined by taking data covering a wide range of a university’s activities and using this to form a series of metrics. These then go into seven perspectives and a university receives a quintile score for each perspective displayed in relation to the average for its cluster

Top image:  Credit: pixelfit, E+ via Getty Images

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