University of Hull shines in first ever Knowledge Exchange Framework

The University of Hull has performed strongly in a new sector-wide assessment of university knowledge exchange.

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) measures 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 (TEF) and the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

A key objective of the KEF is to enable 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.

The University of Hull is in Cluster X, which contains large, research-intensive and broad-discipline universities undertaking a significant amount of world-leading research. Other institutions in Cluster X include Durham, Exeter, Keele, Lancaster, Leicester, LSE, Surrey and York.

In the inaugural year of this new framework, here's how the University of Hull performed compared to other English universities:

  • In the top 30% for research partnerships
  • In the top 30% for its work with the public and third sector
  • In the top 30% for its work in IP and commercialisation
  • In the top 40% for its contribution to local growth and regeneration
  • In the top 50% for working with businesses
  • In the top 50% for public and community engagement

Dr Dave Richards, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Hull, said: “As a long-standing, actively engaged civic institution, and as an engine of innovation, the University of Hull drives advances for the region while also tackling global challenges.

“The University collaborates extensively with partners, connecting its work with business, health, communities, the third sector, and government, for mutual learning, growth and benefit.

“I’m delighted to see these inaugural results, particularly given the high-performing cluster in which the University has been grouped.”

Liz Jenkinson, Director of Knowledge Exchange at the University of Hull, said: “We are delighted that this new framework recognises and celebrates the myriad of ways that knowledge is exchanged between the University and its many stakeholders and partners.

“Over the years the University has achieved many accolades for its knowledge exchange, such as a Guardian University Award for best Business Partnership and we were delighted to launch our new Knowledge Exchange Strategy last summer to guide our work over the next 5 years. A huge amount of work has been undertaken by colleagues across the institution which has culminated in these results, and we would like to thank everyone for their contributions. ”

Types of knowledge exchange

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’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 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’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 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

The University’s research generates ground-breaking intellectual property, such as inventions which tackle global challenges and benefit society. For instance, it 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 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;
  • Anatomy Nights are a series of entertaining events held by Hull York Medical School academics for the public in spaces such as pubs, involving a short talk about a specific organ followed by a public dissection of a non-human organ. Once restrictions have eased, it is hoped these will be up and running once more.

Facilities and equipment

A range of businesses and other external parties utilise the University’s specialist facilities and equipment. The wide array of available facilities ranges from visualisation environments to acoustic centres, 3D printers, medical teaching facilities, and the University’s multi-million-pound high performance supercomputer.

Alongside these facilities, the University’s Aura Innovation Centre and Flood Innovation Centre provide a community to support businesses of all sizes, helping to drive innovation in the areas of low-carbon and flood resilience, while its Enterprise Centre is a thriving community of ambitious start-ups and a hub for entrepreneurs.

Through these varied types of knowledge exchange the University of Hull supports businesses to innovate and thrive, and helps tackle local, national and global challenges.

Many more examples of the University’s collaborations, such as its partnerships with Smith & Nephew, can be found here.


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