Knowledge exchange – the sharing of ideas, research, skills and expertise between universities and its partners – in its broadest sense is critical to the performance of a university.
Occasionally it may directly create financial income streams, but primarily it increases the impact of our research and education or the fulfilment of our civic and societal roles.
Lost in translation
As a sector we have not always been good at talking about what we do and the conversation around technology transfer in particular has too often been captured by those who are critical of universities. This criticism is sometimes justifiable – but more often made in the absence of a full appreciation of the diverse dynamics and functions of a university.
Within Whitehall in particular, universities need to get better at conveying to all departments the numerous ways in which we work with various partners to drive innovation and solve specific problems. Despite the importance of such activity to key government priorities like the industrial strategy, it is not unusual for universities to hear visiting ministers confess they had no idea of the breadth and depth of activity taking place within institutions.
It is now over two years since our report for HEFCE on technology transfer identified the strong, globally comparable performance amongst this element of knowledge exchange in UK universities. It did, however, highlight the need for clarity of purpose and process alongside institutional leadership as important considerations for universities to further improve our interactions with critical partners in technology transfer and knowledge exchange.
Since then the conversation has split into the development of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) to provide the metrics that allow us to better understand our performance and a Knowledge Exchange Concordat (KEC) to allow us to explain what we do, how we do it and what steps we are taking to get better at knowledge exchange.
An approach to the KEF was published in February and is currently running through a pilot of 21 universities representing different parts of the sector. Today UUK and GuildHE, following the work of a joint UUK/Research England Advisory Group, has released a consultation on a draft of a concordat that aims to allow all universities to demonstrate their approaches and strengths in knowledge exchange as well as plan for how the sector can improve.
Knowledge exchange concordat
The aim of the KEC is to provide a framework – definitely NOT a checklist. It is a set of high-level principles under which there is a set of possible enablers that could form part of the university response. These have largely been trialled and refined over several months so it is hoped that they will allow all universities across the sector to respond in a way appropriate to their own mission and the demands of their partners and stakeholders.
While the consultation is largely aimed at universities we will be continuing to consult with public and private sector organisations, in particular those that are funders, to gain their reflections on the value of a concordat of this sort.
At a time when it is more important than ever that the many benefits of universities to society need to be highlighted, especially in the context of a forthcoming government spending review, we hope that the KEC can play a role for all universities in framing the way they engage with external partners.