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Knowledge Exchange

Using the University of Hull as an example, find our more about knowledge exchange and how it is assessed via the Knowlege Exchange Framework.
The British Museum.
© University of Hull

Knowledge exchange is a broad concept, based upon the transfer of knowledge and ideas from a knowledge source to knowledge users. Building upon the concepts covered in this course so far, it is possible to see how knowledge exchange is an important part of scholarly communication. Through knowledge exchange, ideas and research outputs are used, shared and/or operationalised. This is important for many institutions as it furthers research impact.

Funders and governments often have a significant stake in ensuring effective knowledge exchange. This article will focus on how this is managed in the United Kingdom.

The Knowledge Exchange Framework

In the United Kingdom, the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) is used to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of knowledge exchange in universities in seven key areas, providing a picture of how they engage with external partners to contribute both to the economy and society. Developed by Research England, it forms the third pillar of assessment of universities’ activities, alongside the Teaching Excellence Framework, which assesses teaching, and the Research Excellence Framework (REF). KEF is, therefore, another important measure of research specifically focused on how it is shared and/or operationalised.

A key objective of the KEF is to enable a fair comparison of institutions across a diverse sector. Institutions have therefore been grouped into ‘clusters’ – groups of institutions that have been deemed similar for the purposes of comparing knowledge exchange activities.

There are 7 different types of knowledge exchange, covered under the following headings. Illustrative examples from the University of Hull will be used to explain each of these:

Collaborative research

Collaborative research is where a university, working with a non-academic collaborator (such as an industry partner), receives public funding to undertake a piece of research.

For example, the University of Hull’s research with the Environment Agency, Association of Drainage Authorities and Internal Drainage Boards will tackle the issues that are leading to declining eel populations. Pumping stations are essential to manage flood risk, but are most active during the silver eel autumn migration, posing a risk to safe eel passage. The University is working with its partners to identify ways of reducing the impact of pumping stations on this endangered species, such as altering sluicing operations and developing an innovative eel bypass route around pumps.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

The University has a range of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). These are part of a Government backed scheme that is designed to help businesses in the UK to innovate and grow. A KTP links a company with a university and a skilled graduate to deliver a specific, strategic innovation project through a knowledge-based partnership.

One recent 26-month KTP between the Deer Initiative and the University of Hull has worked towards a healthy and sustainable deer population in balance with the environment. Since climate change mitigation, woodland biodiversity, and productive farmland can all be affected by wild deer populations, careful management is required. Academics took an innovative approach, by developing a decision support online tool, based on empirical evidence of wild deer biology to indicate suitable management targets, and framed this within a flexible, adaptive process for effective decision-making.


The University also provides consultancy: expert advice, analysis and interpretation to address external clients’ specific questions or problems. For example, the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute provides a risk assessment service to help businesses identify and avoid slavery practices in their operations and supply chains.

Building on its long-established due diligence and risk assessment programmes, the John Lewis Partnership approached the Wilberforce Institute to better understand some of the systemic issues workers can face, specifically in fresh produce supply chains. Waitrose regularly sources fresh produce from over 2,000 growers around the world. These growers often rely on migrant and seasonal workers at peak times of the year. Working with the University’s Wilberforce Institute, Waitrose was able to identify risks arising from informal recruitment in seasonal supply chains, raise awareness of risks associated with labour providers and help improve and enhance management practices.

Contract Research

Contract research is undertaken by universities to meet the specific research needs of external partners. For example, the University of Hull is working with Yorkshire Water to identify how flow and habitat modifications associated with reservoirs can be used to enhance fisheries and ensure future resilience of fish populations under increasing pressure for water resources. The research will help Yorkshire Water meet regulatory requirements while protecting the environment and providing water resources for the people and businesses of the Yorkshire region.

Intellectual property and commercialisation

University research generates ground-breaking intellectual property, such as inventions which tackle global challenges and benefit society. For instance, the University of Hull is currently developing SmartWave which builds on a Greenport Hull project with Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and Orsted, and is advancing a remote sensing methodology to enhance offshore wind farm logistics. SmartWave will help wind farm operators, crew transfer vessels and maintenance companies to make safe transfers across the water. It has the potential to be applied globally, providing cheap and accurate sea state forecasts to an international market

Continuous Professional Development

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is the learning activity professionals engage in to develop their abilities. The University of Hull offers a wide range of CPD, enabling access to the latest academic knowledge and expertise to enhance workforces.

For example, CATALYST is a career development programme designed for new-to-practice GPs across the Humber, Coast and Vale area. Developed by Hull York Medical School’s Academy of Primary Care this 12-month programme has been designed to provide key knowledge and skills which GPs will need to deliver better care to their patients now and in the future, and which will enable them to be at the forefront of developments in primary care practice.

Public and Community Engagement

Public and community engagement means the multitude of ways in which the benefits of universities’ education and research are shared with the public in a two-way process generating mutual benefit.

For example, a Hull York Medical School/Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre collaboration with artists and local people living with breathlessness created a Bringing Breathlessness into View This aimed to raise awareness of what it is like to live with breathlessness, and enable people to access support.

Facilities and equipment

This involves a range of businesses and other external parties utilise the specialist facilities and equipment of a university. For example, at the University of Hull, the wide array of available facilities ranges from visualisation environments to acoustic centres, 3D printers, medical teaching facilities, and the University of Hull’s multi-million-pound high performance supercomputer.

© University of Hull
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