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New data reveals diverse contributions made by universities

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Published on 31 March 2021

University of Sunderland
University of Sunderland

Information about the ways universities help level up their local areas is one of the highlights of the data released in the first iteration of Research England’s Knowledge Exchange Framework.

The data, available on the KEF’s new website, informs a series of metrics that look at the performance of English Higher Education Providers (HEPs) from a variety of different perspectives. These perspectives include public and community engagement, working with partners ranging from big businesses to small local firms, and how they commercialise their research.

This data shows the rich contributions English HEPs make, both economically and socially, on both local and national levels. The knowledge exchange that underpins the KEF will help promote cooperation and drive continuous improvement in the higher education sector.

As part of today's findings, the University of Sunderland is revealed as playing a significant role.

Professor Jon Timmis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Commercial) at the University, said: "We welcome the Knowledge Exchange Framework in helping highlight the work we do to support the North East region.  

"The breadth of the Framework reflects the excellent work within the University in supporting companies with innovation, promoting graduate enterprise and recruitment, undertaking cutting edge research and developing new products."

The Framework highlights the University:

  •   in the top 10% of universities nationally for contributing to local growth and regeneration, through projects like Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing, which has just been evaluated as contributing a gross £43 million to the North East economy
  •  puts the University in the top 30% of universities nationally on “research partnerships”, reflecting the collaboration we do on research, from work on new drugs through to supporting local firms with new technology.
  •  highlights the excellent work by the University in supporting graduate start-ups, 93% of whom rated this support as “high quality” in a recent survey.

Professor Timmis added: "As the Framework moves beyond the pilot year we look forward to working harder than ever to involve, support and learn from our local businesses, partners and communities, and to seeing this reflected in future publications."



Chief Executive Officer of UK Research and Innovation Dame Ottoline Leyser said: “UKRI values the diverse and varied contributions that our higher education institutions make to society. The Knowledge Exchange Framework, published today by Research England, reflects and celebrates this diversity.

“The KEF also brings together rich accounts of how our universities engage in their local areas, contributing in varied and often innovative ways to their local communities and economies. As well as researchers and innovators, the activities captured in the framework highlight the diversity of essential roles - from technicians and project managers, to technology transfer professionals - in connecting discovery to prosperity and public good.”

Executive Chair of Research England David Sweeney said: “Universities engagement with society through Knowledge Exchange is an essential part of their mission alongside research and teaching.

“The Knowledge Exchange Framework will help universities understand where their strengths are, relative to others with similar missions. It showcases a diverse picture of the tremendous work they do in their places, nationally and internationally.”

Levelling up locally

Over 100 of the institutions involved (117 out of 135) provided detailed narrative accounts of the work they do to build public and community engagement, and to promote economic growth in their local area. These narratives are published in full on the KEF website.

This is the first time that detailed, qualitative information about how HEPs build community engagement and promote growth in their local areas has been collected together in a structured and systematic way allowing for easy comparison. The narratives paint a detailed, never seen before picture of how HEPs engage with their communities to build deeper relationships and to stimulate local growth.

The KEF compares institutions on a like-for-like basis, with similar institutions being grouped together with their peers in ‘KEF clusters’ based on factors like their size, specialisation and the intensity of their research activities. This is a more fair and balanced approach that avoids making unhelpful comparisons between incomparable institutions.

The data that underpins the KEF informs a series of metrics covering a wide range of a university’s activities. These then go into seven perspectives, for which each receives a decile score displayed in relation to the average for its cluster. The website displays all this information in easily interpreted, visually interesting charts and graphs that allow easy comparison of institutions’ strengths. Presenting this information in an easy to use way will help them analyze their own performance in a new level of detail.