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What KEF results will mean for universities and businesses

By Newcastle University
The Biosphere at Newcastle helix is home to no less than 10 of our Spin Out companies

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) is a new way of measuring universities in terms of the impact they have on the world around them.

You might have heard some mention of KEF ratings, but what do they mean in practice? Read our handy guide below to find out more.


What is the KEF?

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) is a new way of measuring the impact universities have on businesses, their community and the wider world, and maximising the benefits they bring from public funding.

Universities will receive a numerical rating that takes into account all aspects of their knowledge exchange (KE) activities. Knowledge exchange includes a wide range of activities carried out by universities to pass on their knowledge outside of the academic community – this could include:

  • partnerships with businesses
  • public lectures
  • CPD training
  • creation of new companies
  • intellectual property

The aim of the KEF is to increase how effectively public funding is used for knowledge exchange, by examining current practice and encouraging universities to continuously strive for improvement.

The KEF sits alongside the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the Research Excellence Framework (REF), and together they provide a fuller picture of how universities are performing and what impact they’re having.


How did the KEF come about?

In 2017, the UK Government asked the Higher Education Fundraising Council for England (HEFCE) to introduce the Knowledge Exchange Framework to measure how effectively higher education providers were working with businesses, serving the economy, supporting their communities and benefitting the wider public. The idea was to create a framework that could sit alongside the REF and TEF, which are existing measures of university performance.

Research England assumed responsibility for the KEF as part of its wider KE policy and funding remit in April 2018. Following a period of consultation on how best to go about undertaking measurements, the first iteration of the KEF is now being introduced.


What will KEF results mean for universities?

The information provided in the KEF will help universities to understand their performance, set targets for the future and identify their strengths and weaknesses in comparison with their peers. The KEF will also help to increase public visibility and accountability of university KE activities. It’s an opportunity for universities to demonstrate their value and impact to those outside of higher education, and it could also help to inspire future collaborations.


What will the KEF mean for businesses?

The KEF will provide businesses with a clearer idea of what universities have to offer them, as well as the opportunity to directly compare universities from similar backgrounds. This could make it simpler for businesses to compare different institutions and choose the best option to support them, for example through a partnership or training opportunity.

For those already working with universities, the KEF could help shine a spotlight on the work that’s being done, as well as identifying opportunities for future collaborations.


How are KEF ratings calculated?

KEF ratings will largely focus on quantitative metrics, most of which will come from data that are already recorded about universities. Metrics will cover areas including:

  • research partnerships
  • working with business
  • working with the public and third sector
  • skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship
  • local growth and regeneration
  • intellectual property and commercialisation
  • public and community engagement

Metrics will automatically be calculated but will not automatically be published unless institutions choose to participate. Those opting to take part have submitted information relating to three areas:

  • institutional context
  • local growth and regeneration
  • public and community engagement


How will universities be compared?

In order to ensure that institutions can be compared fairly, universities will be grouped into clusters with similar institutions, and individual benchmarks will be set for each cluster. This will also give universities the opportunity to compare their activities with their most similar peers. 

KEF results will include a number of different metrics, and each university will have a blend of strengths and weaknesses across those areas. Rather than providing a straightforward ranking of universities, the results will therefore allow us to see which universities really shine in specific areas, as well as giving us a feel for the overall range of activities they engage in. 

Newcastle University is in Cluster V, which includes 16 very large, broad-discipline universities which are undertaking significant amounts of high-profile research. This cluster also includes Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial, King’s College and Manchester, among others.


What’s the difference between the KEF, REF and TEF?

The KEF will sit alongside the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to form a full range of measurements for university performance. Whilst the TEF focuses purely on the standards of teaching and outcomes for students, the REF looks at impact with regards to research, which has more of an overlap with the KEF. However, the focus of the frameworks is different in a number of ways:

Research Excellence Framework Knowledge Exchange Framework
Only looks at research Considers a wide range of activities done by universities to engage with businesses, communities and the wider world
Can be used to compare all universities at a national and international level Groups universities into small clusters of similar institutions to compare like with like
Based on peer-reviewed case studies Takes a largely metrics-led approach
Focuses on the highest profile examples of impact, so is likely to be biased towards bigger success stories Reflects a more diverse range of activities carried out by universities on a daily basis
Mainly aimed at showcasing excellence and establishing rankings More focused on the benefits brought to society and unlocking the potential for change in the real world


When will the first KEF results be announced?

The implementation of the KEF has been delayed slightly due to Covid-19, but the first results are expected in March or April 2021.

These results will draw on the latest 2018-19 official statistics gathered by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) via the Higher Education - Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) dataset and other sources.


Knowledge Exchange at Newcastle University

At Newcastle University, we’re dedicated to making a difference to businesses, our community and the wider world. We provide opportunities for knowledge exchange in a wide variety of ways, including:


We pride ourselves on making a difference in the North East and the wider world. Want to be part of it? Find out more about working with us.

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