The link between KEF, anchor institutions and the Industrial Strategy

Monika Antal, Executive Manager

Alongside the Research Excellence Framework (REF) that assesses research, and a Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) that measures teaching we are now gearing up for the Knowledge Excellence Framework (KEF), which as you would expect will examine knowledge excellence. Yesterday’s announcement regarding the KEF pilots, of which the University of Sheffield will be one of the first participants, presents a timely opportunity to examine the broader context surrounding the KEF, and its linkages with other initiatives.

Professor Richard Jones (chair of the KEF the Technical Advisory Group) suggests that the KEF should be linked to the broader strategic priorities of universities, such as their role as anchor institutions and their central involvement in the implementation of both the UK Industrial Strategy and the emergent local industrial strategies. According to Professor Jones, the KEF should have multiple goals:

First, it should highlight the excellent knowledge exchange practices that can be found across the sector, and the outstanding ways HE institutions contribute – for example in generating national and regional economic growth and supporting their local communities.

The KEF should identify the areas of high performance and provide the evidence that enables universities to answer the central question of “how well do institutions use the assets they have at their disposal to create economic and societal value?” Reflecting on the work Yorkshire Universities began last year on the civic university and anchor institutions our members in Yorkshire can illustrate many positive case studies of wider economic and societal impact.

In thinking about the relationship between Industrial Strategy and KEF, universities will be assessed on whether and how knowledge exchange interventions lead to material impacts upon local and regional economies. As the KEF could play a future role in determining HEIF allocations, institutions will need a strategy that demonstrates institutional strengths. Professor Jones continues to say that:

[the KEF] should help university managers to focus on this important part of a university’s mission, and highlight the importance of knowledge exchange to staff throughout the institution. It should prompt reflection within university leadership teams about how the particular emphases of their knowledge exchange activities should best reflect the particular strengths of their institution and the needs of their cities and regions. It should allow them to compare their record with those of comparable institutions, and to learn from initiatives elsewhere.

Of course, it is problematic to talk about knowledge exchange or the Industrial Strategy without making reference to skills, particularly higher-level skills. There is an inseparable link between higher level skills, innovation and the concept of place, and it is important to ensure that the contribution of HE is communicated effectively at national, regional and local levels.

Finally, as Professor Jones suggests, the KEF should encourage more actors outside HE – including public and private employers and NGOs – to work closely with universities, highlighting the economic, social and environmental benefits that derive from building and sustaining place-based partnerships. Doing so, not only in a time of change and uncertainty, but also in an era of new opportunities. For a region such as Yorkshire this has to be a good thing, and something to embrace.


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