In September, HEFCE published a review of technology transfer from a university group chaired by Professor Trevor McMillan, the Vice-Chancellor of Keele University.

This review was just one part of the work we are undertaking to implement the knowledge exchange (KE) framework, which the Government requested in its 2014 Science and Innovation Strategy and 2016 HE White Paper. Professor McMillan has now agreed next steps – outlined below – with the overall aim of putting in place a roadmap for identifying, promoting and embedding good practice and high performance in all forms of KE.

First, the technology transfer review confirmed the value of the contribution of university experts in KE to national policy development. We are therefore setting up a group, chaired by Professor McMillan, to steer the framework generally, which will also oversee further in-depth reviews with additional university experts. The group’s job will be to ensure that we do not duck critiques of the quality and standards of university KE, to explain how universities do KE, and to take a thorough view of evidence. It should also provide a way for universities to play a more prominent role in national policy debates, and to draw together partnerships to further good practice.

Second, HEFCE is today launching a KE framework portal, building on analysis provided in a pilot study for HEFCE from Research Consulting. That study identified around 250 existing good practice documents. Static materials inevitably go out of date, and more value may be gained from networking around documented good practice, to share soft skills and deeper insights. In our work on the portal we are therefore working on mapping existing communities of practice, and working with these communities to establish where vibrant communities and relevant materials, training and support exist, and where there may be gaps.

Third, HEFCE is providing some initial data tools in the portal to support stronger institutional evaluative culture in KE. Data tools may help institutions to make performance comparisons, and identify peer comparators and benchmarking groups. In considering how to improve performance, universities need to evaluate their own effectiveness at several levels:

  • at setting appropriate KE goals relevant to their internal characteristics and external conditions
  • at making the right investments in internal KE capacity and capabilities to deliver those goals
  • and at judging and improving the operational efficiency of their KE units.

The tools we are providing build on a pilot study from IP Pragmatics. Universities may wish to explore these as sources of benchmarking information, at strategic or operational levels. Our analysis of institutional KE strategies submitted this month to inform allocations of Higher Education Innovation Funding is likely to throw up additional ideas on the tools and techniques that might be adopted more widely across the HE sector to improve evaluative practice, and which could be added to the portal.

The KE framework steering group will work with HEFCE to identify the most important areas for further in-depth reviews in the future. Some of the questions we may wish to address are:

  • Should we consider the good practices required in different places and spatial contexts to achieve high performance in KE?
  • Should we consider the physical infrastructure for KE, including sharing of equipment and facilities, as well as incubators, accelerators or hackspaces, and the good practices in KE needed to make best use of innovation or enterprise spaces?
  • Should we look at effective approaches to strategic research or corporate partnerships, exploring the other dimensions to exploiting intellectual property, through collaborative or contract research, as compared with spin-outs or licensing?
  • Should we look at good practices in developing enterprise and entrepreneurial skills in academics, students and local communities?

We look forward to exchanging views with the steering group and the wider higher education KE community on these and other important challenges and opportunities for KE good practice for the future.