English universities have two core excellence frameworks, the REF and TEF, which judge the institution’s output quality. The REF or Research Excellence Framework assesses the quality of research at an institution, supports the allocation of research funding, provides accountability of that funding, and offers a benchmark for universities. The TEF or Teaching Excellence Framework assesses teaching quality by measuring how a university supports students to succeed and gain graduate-level employment or entry to further study. The performance of these two markers is directly linked to rankings and funding. A third Framework has been introduced that does not yet have any formal impact but might be a better way of measuring a university’s impact on society.
The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)
“The aim of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) is to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public funding for knowledge exchange (KE) and to further a culture of continuous improvement in universities.” Research England
The Kef measures the impact of academic research by assessing the institution against the activities described in the HE-BCI survey data, a measure of interactions with businesses and the community. The range of activities includes involving industry and the public sector in research, consultancy, the commercialisation of intellectual property, and activities that have societal benefits, such as Continuing Professional Development, public lectures, and events. The HE-BCI data is currently also used to allocate the £200m Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), and so the KEF may impact this allocation in the future.
The KEF looks at seven perspectives;
- Research partnerships
- Working with business
- Working with the public and third sector
- Skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship
- Local growth and regeneration,
- IP and commercialisation
- Public community engagement.
Currently, the KEF provides institutions with information about their performance in knowledge exchange to facilitate improvement. This information can also be shared with businesses and other users of knowledge for better access to universities. For those involved in making university teaching more flexible and integrating study with work, the KEF captures the delivery of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, graduate start-up creation, and how universities support local growth and regeneration.
The UK Government has been making significant efforts to increase the impact of higher education on skills, introducing degree apprenticeships and higher technical qualifications. Could this be the third deliberate step to further spread universities’ positive impact into the businesses and communities they site within?