After months of detailed work, analysis and discussion across the sector, Research England launched the proposals for the metrics element of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) for consultation in January this year.
This period has also seen the preparation and consultation on the guidance and criteria for the next Research Excellence Framework (REF), with the final versions published at the end of January.
In this context, it is perhaps not surprising that there has been an emerging discussion on the relationship between the KEF and REF.
Like the impact element of the REF, the KEF is concerned with the change and influence that universities have on the world. But there are some key and important differences. The ‘R’ in REF means that the impacts reported there need a clear linkage to research, whereas the KEF looks to capture all type of knowledge exchange, such as those linked to teaching, including provision of Continuing Professional Development courses.
The KEF is based primarily on quantitative indicators that are either collected already or based on readily available data (though with some unassessed narratives for some types of knowledge exchange), which contrasts significantly with the peer-reviewed case study approach of the REF.
Preparing a submission for REF impact takes effort for institutions; KEF much less so. This is appropriate, given that KEF will not be linked to funding for 2019/20.
A question of focus
Perhaps the biggest difference between KEF and REF impact is a question of focus. REF impact is very much about outcomes, and because the case studies are selected, they represent the best and most exciting examples of impact.
Although 7000 case studies were provided for REF 2014, these represent a small proportion of the total impact that our universities have.
The focus of the KEF is the processes of knowledge exchange, across a wide range of activity. Some of those processes will be related to the big success stories that make up REF impact case studies. But others will lead to smaller, more diverse, but no less important impacts. Others still will be about building the foundations – relationships and networks – on which potential future impacts might be built.
An opportunity for universities
Like the REF, the new KEF metrics approach represents a huge opportunity for universities.
It is an opportunity to demonstrate to those outside the sector the excellent performance in knowledge exchange that is happening across all types of universities, and even to encourage new collaborations. It is a chance to really showcase and value the work that underpins impact.
The KEF also presents a chance for universities to learn through benchmarking their performance against other comparable institutions. With that learning, there is the potential for an even greater contribution from our world-leading university sector.