The Knowledge Exchange Concordat commits the sector to service

As the Knowledge Exchange Concordat is activated, Research England's David Sweeney explores what it means for the sector and society.

Our higher education institutions have been quick within the last year to offer their expertise and services for the public good.

This came in a number of ways – from global health academics and epidemiologists proving evidence and analysis to policy makers and the media, engineers racing to produce ventilators for use at home and abroad, or scientists pioneering diagnostics, therapeutics and endeavouring to develop a vaccine at unprecedented speed.

Each of these ways is a prime example of knowledge exchange in action, highlighting the important role that universities play in taking the cutting-edge research and wealth of knowledge they are all known for, and translating it into economic and societal impact that we can, and hopefully will, all benefit from.

But as the world adapts somewhat to living and working in a new way, it is essential that universities build on this momentum, so the public and policy makers keep in mind the benefits of university knowledge exchange activities – and this is precisely the aim of the Knowledge Exchange Concordat.

How we got here

I am delighted to welcome the activation of the Knowledge Exchange (KE) Concordat today – and the opening for higher education institutions to commit to its principles. The Concordat prompts and encourages universities to support the development of their staff and students, and for those in turn to engage and deliver impacts which can benefit their wider community.

One of the key recommendations to come out of Trevor McMillan’s report to HEFCE in 2016 focussed on statements of leadership commitment to KE good practice. McMillan has continued to champion this in the form of a concordat as a way to “enable universities to communicate their strengths and future aspirations” externally, and to provide a framework around which universities can support their staff and students to ensure they can continue to have a major impact. It is this support and its impact that is so timely right now.

I am grateful to Professor McMillan for his leadership, enthusiasm and energy which has got the Concordat to this point. The Concordat was published in April by Universities UK and GuildHE and, now the sign-up process is open, university leaders have the opportunity to join him in championing this cause. University leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the principles set out in the concordat, underlining to policy makers and business and other partners, and also to their staff, students and local communities, that KE is vitally important to them.

Institutions are asked to sign up for the development year in England, which will involve assessing their own current KE activity against the principles and providing a plan of action to enhance their approaches. This is a promising development for future performance. Other funding bodies are supporting the Concordat in various different ways that fit their situations.

How will the concordat help us?

The KE concordat creates a further opportunity for universities to better illustrate how and what they do, and how they aim to improve. This complements Research England’s initiative of the Knowledge Exchange Framework with its metrics-based approach, enabling universities to better understand their performance. Together these developments will form a critical resource to drive performance across the sector, as we aim to maximise the impact of any increases in Government funding of research and development through the UK Government’s R&D roadmap. We are also committed to embedding the Concordat as part of our ongoing reform of the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF).

Universities’ ability to strengthen existing relationships and foster new connections with knowledge exchange stakeholders will be essential as they look to maximize the economic and societal impact of their knowledge and partnerships on a local and regional scale. This will be critical in addressing the delivery of the R&D roadmap.

I hope university leaders will take this opportunity to commit to the Concordat. Through working in concert with other university leaders, by supporting the development of their staff and students, and in strengthening their relationships with KE partners and local communities, our universities can continue to deliver the extraordinary service to society that we have witnessed in this extraordinary, and truly challenging, year.

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