Why do we need more national capability? And why Research England?
1. Better KE metrics
First, we need more and better metrics of KE.
This is critical to fulfil the aspiration of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) to capture the breadth of higher education KE performance. To achieve this, we will need to move beyond what is currently available through the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey.
Without this breadth, we:
- underestimate the total contribution that higher education makes to economic and societal prosperity
- fail to convince policymakers and the public of the importance of this contribution
- potentially will not nurture contributions that meet different economic and societal needs
- including failing to convince external economic and societal partners that higher education KE can make a difference for them
- and do not give universities the full toolset to benchmark and improve their performance
And a KEF that is able to describe this breadth becomes a critical tool to allocate KE funding – which for Research England would include for Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF).
2. Better evidence linking practice and performance
Coupled with improved metrics, we need better evidence of the effectiveness of institutional practices (and of our support for those), in order to inform solutions for critical national challenges.
Our work with the University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI) policy evidence unit at the University of Cambridge demonstrates why this is important, as example their recent evidence on the real factors driving successful university spinout companies. This research was enabled firstly by close working relationships with individual universities providing commercially sensitive data on their terms. Secondly, objective analysis of this data provides a robust evidence base for shared problem solving by policymakers, external KE partners and universities.
We can see the clear importance of using similar evidence techniques across the range of KE beyond spinouts – how to form clusters and improve places, or how to develop social and community enterprises, and many more.
Role of Research England
Research England cannot do all this alone – but we intend to build upon our vital role at the heart of KE:
- working within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), we play a critical role in use of data in funding and in system intelligence, such as the KEF
- working with other UK higher education funding bodies, we share understanding of metrics needs
- working with Office for Students, we oversee systematic, robust, fit for purpose higher education data collection
- working with the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) (as part of Jisc) we help provide guidance and definitions for universities to accurately return funding data and we provide data policy steers
- working with evidence units such as UCI, and across UKRI, we link conceptual understanding with practical data, metrics and evidence needs and uses
- working across UKRI and with universities, external KE partners and government, we bring together insights on practice, performance and policy to find the means to achieve greater success for all
Creating the vision
So how do we realise this potential?
We have commissioned UCI to work with us in the development phase, to extend critical work on commercialisation and advise from their deep KE metrics expertise. We are also linking to a broader range of evidence partners including through UKRI.
Over the next year, we are producing a detailed blueprint on how to deliver the national need for increased capability. This includes developing Research England to play a more ambitious role, and identifying the additional capabilities needed and how to source these.
But over this year we do not intend to stand still on developing a rich intellectual base to put start to put flesh on the bones of the blueprint. Working with partners including UCI and HESA, we are starting off ambitious additional work including on:
- an underpinning analytical framework for the breadth of KE metrics
- exploration of new evidence data tools to increase metric availability
- and of the possibilities of additional surveys beyond HE-BCI, such as of academic KE
- with focus including commercialisation, business partnerships and place and levelling up
- and, overall, learning internationally
We aim to bring forward our vision for national capability by next spring. This will allow rapid implementation and hence future proofing data, metrics and evidence toward long-term stability and effectiveness in KE practice and policy.
Over the next year we will want inputs from all the many critical partners identified in this blog post. This will ensure we are identifying the really difficult questions that need to be solved, and bringing together all who can contribute to answer them. We look forward to hearing from you all.
Top image: Credit: Bahadir Eroglu, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images