This year’s State of the Relationship boasts an array of case studies capturing all kinds of fine work between higher education and business, civic society and local leaders.

Of course this isn’t just showcased in the report. Through Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact case studies, through the developing Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), to the Higher Education – Business Community Interaction survey (HE-BCI); all this activity should be reported somewhere.

That’s what helps institutions understand where their strengths are; helps businesses find suitable academic partners; and helps Government and agencies understand the diversity of collaborations out there in order to better encourage them. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything actually is reported somewhere – or at least not as effectively as it could be.

It’s HE-BCI we’ll focus on here. It is a critical data collection, under the direction of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), in which information on knowledge exchange is collected in the UK. It’s one of the foundational datasets for decision-making in the sector – and it informs policymakers and strategic leads across the country.

“HE-BCI is a dataset which traces its consolidated origin back to 1999 – it’s the longest-running longitudinal data collection of its type in the world.”

HE-BCI is a dataset which traces its consolidated origin back to 1999 – it’s the longest-running longitudinal data collection of its type in the world. But has it kept pace with the changing nature of knowledge exchange? KE is a maturing and expanding discipline. Universities and their partners are finding evolving approaches and new activities less than completely measured – most notably in the community partnerships and place arenas, where the plurality of activity is harder to measure with current tools. KEF narrative statements will permit some opportunity to reflect this; but KEF and HE-BCI will need to interact well for the former to fulfil its potential.

So HE-BCI can do more to reflect what is actually going on. Government and agencies need to understand what works, what needs support, and how to exploit the rich potential of interaction to achieve economic goals, and leverage universities’ civic engagement to empower and uplift places.

HE-BCI should be seen in the context of Government’s aim to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027; uplifts to the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF); and the ambitions of the Industrial Strategy.

In that spirit, HESA has committed to refresh HE-BCI – and create a single, UK-wide data infrastructure for consistency and comparability, which works for all stakeholder groups, allowing them to better deliver on their priorities, such as the Industrial Strategy and (for England), the KEF.

In doing this, HE-BCI could help to capture more of the place-based impacts collaborations have in their localities. It could help to surface the unique characteristics of civically-rooted KE. And perhaps it will find more ways to recognise the work going on that makes the case studies in this section such good examples of balancing the UK economy through knowledge exchange.

This article first appeared in the 2019 State of the Relationship report published 19 June 2019.