Institutional Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) allocations for 2019/2020 were announced today, as part of the recurrent research and knowledge exchange funding allocation process.

It’s just one part of the funding mix for universities from Research England and devolved funding bodies, alongside such measures as the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund, QR and other recurrent research funding – with allocations of the latter also released today. But HEIF is the lifeblood of knowledge exchange and facilitates many quality collaborations; NCUB has been consistent in arguing for an uplift in HEIF in recent years and its strategic importance was evidenced by its increase to support the delivery of the Industrial Strategy.

HEIF – as readers of this website will not need to be told – is designed to support a broad base of knowledge-centred interactions between universities and their partners, delivering economic and social benefits. It incentivises and supports the sort of work with business, the third sector and in places and communities that increasingly knowledge exchange-focused universities can thrive at. It is performance-based and an annual allocation so there is scope for fluctuation – and for new institutions to draw down KE funding for the first time. Allocations are based on data from the Higher Education-Business Community Interaction Survey (HE-BCI) and institutional KE strategies. Presently set at £210m per annum – though a further £3m was announced earlier this month for 2019-2020 – there is a good quantum of money available for impactful activity.

The details of this year’s allocations can be found here, and we won’t unpack them in detail today; but there are certainly interesting cases of allocation increase for KE funding in the data. NCUB members the University of Exeter can point to a substantial increase in their allocation of KE funding this year, for example. A perhaps unsurprising list of institutions are being allocated the highest level of KE funding (£4.395m) – including such perennial high performers as Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial, Manchester, King’s, Birmingham and Nottingham, alongside Bristol, Southampton, Leeds and Sheffield.

There is also an emergent trend of arts and humanities-centred institutions performing better in the sphere of knowledge exchange funding – speaking perhaps to the evolving understanding of what constitutes KE cross-sectorally, and to the increased capacity and aptitude of such institutions to draw down funding to support it. Some institutions of this type appear on the list of KE-funded institutions for the first time.

Additionally, we see institutions with a good track record of locally-rooted knowledge exchange faring well. With universities at the forefront of the economic rebalancing agenda through their civic missions, contributions to the skills bases, innovation capabilities and built environment of their localities, this could auger well for more place-based KE.

However, some institutions with strong academic bases and capabilities clearly fare less well. For them, it will be a question of how they respond to the challenge of operationalising their faculties to better perform KE – and the KE Concordat may well play a role in offering suggestions. Regardless, HEIF presents an opportunity to maximise the value of the good work being done by universities; it is to each institution to determine how they make this a reality and wring the greatest impact from their allocation.