Today marks the launch of the higher education sector Knowledge Exchange Concordat inviting universities to publicly sign up to the development year and commit to 8 main principles to building partnerships and sharing knowledge with external organisations. The aim of the Concordat is to support universities to consistently improve Knowledge Exchange (KE) performance in pursuit of the 8 principles, which can be found here.

The current crisis has given rise to some positive achievements in the ways in which the ideas being developed in universities are being collaboratively worked on with external partners. Knowledge exchange has featured front and centre in headline news as the country fights the Covid pandemic. Perhaps the most famous of all is the collaboration between AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford into the development of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 which, if successful will give the UK’s higher education sector a huge boost in international repute and prestige. On the pharmaceutical and MedTech side as well, universities and businesses alike have moved with incredible speed to tackle the key issues of the pandemic. One example is the University of Huddersfield’s Supply Chain Programme, which enabled Leeds based SMEs to rapidly manufacture PPE, such as hand sanitisers, face masks, scrubs and visors. The programme helped SMEs to establish connections with larger companies, so that their life saving products were able to reach the supply chain more effectively. More examples of University-Business Partnerships during lockdown can be found in our Collaboration in Crisis booklet.

The HE Business and Community Interaction Survey (HEBCIS) last year indicated that UK Knowledge Exchange continued to increase with the value of  interactions growing 7% to £4.9 billion in 2018-2019. This clearly shows the progress universities are making working with partners and how this is increasingly becoming a focus for university strategy making. As we enter a critical juncture for the UK in recovery from Covid and post Brexit, the question remains how we harness the current momentum and how do we ensure the Concordat is effective in helping universities attract and embed successful knowledge exchange in the future?

Already, concerns are being raised about the impact that Covid will have on knowledge exchange as the UK attempts economic recovery. Headline findings from a survey by the University Commercialisation Innovation Centre and the NCUB, for example, show that almost half of university respondents reported a decrease in the level of innovation-focused activities and projects across all of their partnerships and engagements with external partners during the Lockdown compared with the situation prior to Covid. Levels of innovation-focused activities between universities and small or medium sized businesses have been particularly badly affected, with almost 60% of universities identifying a decrease.

Businesses & Knowledge Exchange

Bringing the business perspective to knowledge exchange is fundamental to forming mutually beneficial and long-lasting partnerships. As the UK commits to increasing R&D investment to 2.4% by 2027, university-business partnerships will play an active role in leveraging the private investment required.

Universities play a fundamental role in businesses’ drive to meet the skills and innovation supply chain that their success relies on. The 2012 Wilson Review argued this supply chain is multi‐dimensional and is represented by a landscape of business-university collaboration, consisting of a number of highly diverse domains of activity. For example: The education of highly skilled graduates, applied research in advanced technologies, bespoke collaborative degree programmes, ‘science’ park developments, enterprise education, support for entrepreneurs, industry‐sector foundation degrees, higher‐level apprenticeships, collaborative research and in‐company upskilling of employees.

The Development Year

The Concordat development year will support institutions in shining a much-needed spotlight on knowledge exchange, and continuing to support the delivery of these projects. Universities will be invited to submit to the KE Concordat Portal an action plan and self-evaluate their progress against the successes and learnings that will be shared from other institutions across the country. The use of digital tools like the portal aid in bringing the Concordat to life and will aid in highlighting the key principles and how institutions can engage with Knowledge Exchange. One of the key principles of the Concordat is around Engagement, which is concerned with how the institution is set up to engage with outside parties, and prioritises the need for genuine and valuable exchange with partners. This facilitates the forming of long-lasting and meaningful partnerships between universities and businesses.

Following the launch of the opportunity for institutions to publicly sign up to the principles and participate in the development year for England on 26th October 2020, a webinar on ‘The Implementation of the KE Concordat’ will be held via zoom on 29th October between 2:00-3:30pm. Sign up to the online event is here.

The webinar will provide further detail of the development year. The evaluation panel chair, Dr Phil Clare, will discuss the signing up process, self-evaluation and action plan exercises, and the evaluation process.

Attendees are welcome to send questions to ahead of the event and we will attempt to address them during the session. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions during the event.