If we believe the value of a university education is more than a reductionist calculation of graduate salaries minus student fees, then institutions need to take a holistic approach to how they demonstrate value, for students, society and the economy.
Following the hike in student fees in 2012, the marketisation and value of higher education continues to be highly topical and hotly debated. Speculation around differential fees, metrics based on face to face teaching hours, employability and graduate salaries, value for ‘money’ is the dominant narrative about the value of higher education (HE).
Since the UK government increased investment in HE in the 1950s and 60s to support the burgeoning technical based economy, universities have been recognised as playing an important role in ensuring the effective exchange of knowledge between institutions and industry. With Knowledge Exchange (KE) currently on the agenda for Research England, Universities UK, Guild HE and others, it is important to consider whether HE is selling itself short in terms of the value it creates when doing knowledge exchange and what might help us do it better.
KE is an activity that goes on between research, teaching and practice, which draws on all three and has the potential to continuously improve all three. Current interpretations of KE can demonstrate the wider value that can be created if universities are able to integrate the often forgotten component of links with teaching and explore the importance of having a more holistic approach to KE.
Knowledge Exchange enhances teaching and learning
Knowledge Exchange covers a diverse range of activities that can enhance teaching and learning, but may not be captured or valued by institutions, including:
- Engagement with employers through guest lectures, employer-led case studies and research questions and placement opportunities to provide students with authentic learning experiences
- Providing pathways for students to engage with enterprise and entrepreneurship
- Course teams working with employers and professional bodies to inform the curriculum and provide CPD opportunities
- Participating in discipline communities or communities of practice and undertaking scholarship or pedagogic research
- Working with civil society organisations or local volunteer groups to develop community projects
- Developing effective staff-student partnerships
Both the curriculum and the wider student experience are enriched through such KE activities, but are the time and resources put into these activities valued inside or outside of the institution?
Can the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) help demonstrate the value of HE?
The KEF, currently under consultation through Research England, has two strands:
- principles and good practice
The metrics strand will explore how to measure previously uncaptured KE activities such as local growth and regeneration. Its aim is to enable fair comparison of institutions across a diverse sector on a cluster rather than national ranking basis. It is not the intention to try and compare, for example, a student-led community project with academics sharing best practice at a teaching and learning conference. Each institution will look to showcase areas of excellence while being conscious of how it performs within its cluster group.
The challenge of the KEF is to capture the value of a diverse range of activities whilst providing a useful source of benchmark information and data for institutions to understand and improve their own performance.
Many academics engage in KE activities because they believe it will enhance their teaching and the student learning experience. Teaching and learning has been highlighted by Professor Trevor McMillan (Chair of the KEF steering group) as an important facet of the future of KE, potentially leading to greater recognition and reward for this aspect of teaching practice.
To embed teaching as a critical component of knowledge exchange we must continue to better understand the interplay in our own institutions between people, ideas and relationships (internal and external). This will ensure that teaching and learning is well represented in the articulation of the value that HE creates and will help to change the narrative about the sector for the future.
Let’s Talk Value is a one day conference taking place on 11 February 2020. The conference will discuss the integrated report framework, new developments, challenges and progress in how institutions communicate and report the value created through education and research. Find out more and book now.
 Most HEIs have their own description/interpretation of and priorities for knowledge exchange, generally included on their website.
 Particularly in sectors such as the arts, design and humanities, where a larger number of students go on to run their own businesses.