Skip to main content

About the Knowledge Exchange Framework

What is Knowledge Exchange?

Higher Education Providers (HEPs), such as universities, teach students and undertake research that creates new and useful knowledge. But they also work with many different types of partner to ensure that this knowledge can be used for the benefit of the economy and society - this is known as knowledge exchange (KE).

These partners range from individual members of the public who may attend events organised by a university, to a multinational company partnering with a university to develop new medicines. The activities might include public events, allowing businesses to access specialist equipment or facilities, undertaking consultancy or licensing their intellectual property so others may use it. Universities often also play important roles in their local area.

Who are Research England?

Research England are part of UK Research & Innovation. We are a public body who fund Higher Education Providers to undertake research and knowledge exchange. You can find out more about Research England on our main website.

How do I use the KEF dashboards?

A strength of the English higher education sector is its diversity. The KEF groups providers into ‘clusters’ of peers – providers with similar characteristics such as how much research they do and in what subject areas. Their performance is then presented alongside the average performance of this peer group. For example, you’ll see arts specialists clustered together. By not comparing everyone to everyone, you can better see how different types of providers perform.

The KEF’s interactive dashboards are designed to provide details on a wide range of activities across seven ‘perspectives’ of knowledge exchange – from how they approach community engagement and contribute to local growth, to the volume of work undertaken with businesses.

The KEF allows the performance of a provider to be compared to their ‘cluster’ peers, but it is important to note that the dashboards are not intended to be used to derive a single overall ‘score’ (or rank providers into a league table). We do not expect providers to be above the average score for their peer group in every area; rather, the dashboards enable you to explore the data and descriptions of activity as follows:

  1. KEF Overview level

    At the perspective level, we display the performance of each provider as a quintile score indicating the level of engagement, where each quintile represents 1/5 of the KEF provider population. For example, a KEF result of ‘Very high engagement (quintile 5)’ indicates that they are one of the highest performing providers in the top 20% of the KEF population.

    Each perspective quintile is calculated from the three-year average of a range of metrics. The selected provider’s quintile result is displayed in relation to the average quintile result of their peer-group cluster. You can therefore see whether the selected provider is performing above or below the average for their cluster:

    Polar chart screenshot pointing out the cluster average segments behind each segment for a provider

    Detailed information about the mathematical calculations used to determine the results are provided under KEF Technical notes.

    By tapping or hovering over a segment of the chart you can drill-down to more detailed information about the metrics that go to make up that perspective for the selected provider.

    Institutional context

    Adjacent to the polar area chart is the ‘Institutional Context’ - a 120 word summary, with a link below to read the full description. This is an introduction to the organisation, such as their mission, strategic priorities, areas of strength etc.

    Who are Cluster […]?

    Below the Institutional Context is the ‘Who are Cluster […]?’ summary, this is a description of the key characteristics of the cluster of the selected provider..

  2. Perspective level

    At the perspective level, the individual metrics that make up the perspective quintile score are displayed as bar charts, with the selected provider shaded in the perspective colour, showing the three-year average for each of the metrics that make up the perspective quintile.

    A dotted horizontal line on each chart denotes the cluster average for that metric. Note that the bars are scaled relative to all providers for each metric and not just those in the displayed cluster (i.e. 100% is the highest value across the sector, while 0% is the lowest, irrespective of the actual minimum and maximum values for the metric).

  3. Metric level

    At the metric level, detailed information about a single metric is displayed for the selected provider in the following formats:

    • Relative performance - Scaled bar chart showing the selected provider’s three-year average compared with other cluster members.
    • Trend data - Line graph showing the performance against the metric for the selected provider over a three-year period.
    • Annual performance relative to cluster – Sortable table showing how metric performance has changed over the last three years for all members of the cluster.
  4. Perspective narrative statements

    For two of the perspectives, Local Growth and Regeneration and Public and Community Engagement (shaded in grey, flagged with a blue triangle), the currently available metrics are limited. We therefore asked providers to provide additional narrative to help explain their work in these areas.

    It is important to note that the narrative statements displayed in the current KEF were submitted for the first KEF in 2020 and therefore relate to activity undertaken in the period 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. Updated narratives will be invited for KEF3, which will be published in 2023.

    The narrative statements can be accessed by hovering over the perspective segment and following the link provided (max 2,000 words).

    The narrative statements are designed to be factual, evidenced statements, and are structured to allow comparison between providers, with each statement providing information about their:

    • Strategies and the needs they have identified
    • Activities that they undertake to address the identified needs
    • Results and impacts of their activities.

    Detailed information about the narrative statements and the guidance provided to HEPs to prepare them was published in 2019. The use of narrative statements was considered in detail in the 2021 review of the first KEF and further information about further plans for the narrative statements is provided in the February 2022 KEF review report.

  5. Clusters

    Here you can find an overview of all seven KEF cluster average polar area charts, enabling you to compare the relative strengths of each. By selecting one of the cluster charts along the bottom of the screen, the page will display the membership and cluster average quintile results for each perspective in the selected cluster.

    Clustering for fair comparison

    The purpose of clustering is to group the KEF participants into KEF clusters that have similar capabilities and resources available to them to engage in knowledge exchange activities.

    It is important to note that the KEF clusters are not ranked in any way – the clusters are not a ranking in themselves – they are intended to promote fair comparisons between similar sorts of providers in a very diverse sector.

    Diagram showing the relationship between clusters and the HE sector

    More detailed information about the clustering process is provided under KEF Technical notes and the full details may be found in this report.

    A downloadable Excel file of providers by cluster was published alongside the 2022 KEF decisions report.

  6. Select a provider

    This function enables you to search for a given provider either by typing part of the name in the search bar and pressing enter, or by clicking on the interactive map of providers by location.

    Once your selected provider’s full name appears in the search results, select the name and click on the pop-up hyperlink or select ‘KEF overview’ in the menu bar to see the overview dashboard for that provider.

  7. Comparing providers

    This function enables you to select two different providers, either from the same cluster or different ones and see their high-level perspective dashboard side by side. Select or hover over individual perspectives to see further detail of the metrics for either provider. Care should be taken when comparing providers from different clusters – you should always think about their performance relative their cluster.

How did the KEF come about?

The below timeline provides a brief overview of the history of the development of the KEF, including links to key documents published through the development process.

KEF development timeline

Who can I contact if I have further questions?

Please email