Hands up if you’ve heard of Knowledge Exchange or KE? Chances are, if you are not part of a Higher Education Institute (HEI) then this is a term you won’t have encountered. In fact, having set up a Google alert on the term over a year ago, I know that it is almost exclusively used by HEIs (an exception being a web portal for green packaging companies based in the US).

“the partner might just wish a small service provision and on finding how successful the partnership is, may be encouraged towards a larger commitment.”

The term has been in a slow transition from Knowledge Transfer approx. 3-4 years ago. The legacy of the original term remains with the likes of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) or the Institute of Knowledge Transfer (IKT). The activity remains unchanged but as transfer is perceived as one directional and exchange suggests more of a two-way process, it better describes the process taking place.

To an HEI, KE can encompass a whole range of activities extending from Public Engagement (PE) to research collaborations.

There are various reasons why an HEI should to engage with non-HEI:

  • morally, as HEIs are tax payer funded they have an obligation to make available their knowledge base to benefit the wider society
  • due to changes in how HEIs are now ranked, they are measured on how our research outputs are used external to the university. This is called Impact. The new system, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) is UK wide and rewards both financially and reputationally.

The waters muddy substantially when discerning what activity is PE and what is KE and what leads to Impact, especially as an output of Impact can be PE or KE! Thankfully we have eligibility to bring about some clarity.

Impact only stems from the exploitation of an existing body of research. If it is transferring/exchanging knowledge that has not stemmed from research then it is not eligible for REF Impact.

However, very few partnerships between HEIs and non-HEIs start at the point of exchanging research. Investment of time and/or money is needed from both partners to get to this stage and that shotgun wedding scenario is a rare occurrence. Months if not years of partnership building leads to the stage where such a commitment is made.

In some cases the partners might know in advance that the end point involves collaborative research. However, in other cases the partner might just wish a small service provision and on finding how successful the partnership is, may be encouraged towards a larger commitment.

The diagram below makes a suggestion to a pseudo-ecosystem for KE. It is important to understand that it is not a sequential journey but highlights some of the activities partnerships could explore.

A psuedo eco-system suggesting some of the various facets of knowledge exchange.

All engagement between HEIs and non-HEIs where knowledge is imparted is KE, but not all KE is Impact.

“All engagement between HEIs and non-HEIs where knowledge is imparted is KE, but not all KE is Impact.”

This partnership courting is often the knowledge exchange, including softer activities such as internships, CPD, Consultancy, short foundation building projects and the likes. Preceding the courting stage could be the PE phase, where you spot a potential suitor.

Our philosophy is built around the following goals where we want to:

  • Build longer term, mutually beneficial relationships with external partners
  • Support our partners to achieve success through contributions to the development of products and processes leading to economic, cultural and societal benefits
  • Inform legislation, policy and governmental guidelines for local, national and international agendas
  • Promote cultural exchange within and between communities at local, national and international levels
  • Improve the health and wellbeing of our communities and environment
  • Create career development opportunities for our students and academics

Dr Fraser Rowan is Business Development Manager at the University of Glasgow College of Arts. This post orignally appeared on the College of Arts Industry Engagement Blog. To find out more about Industry Engagement with the College of Arts, visit our website or email Fraser Rowan

NCUB research publications work to build the evidence base for university-business collaboration. Find out more about NCUB’s Knowledge Exchange research.

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