Skip to main content

HE-BCI review: our progress, and plans to improve knowledge exchange data

We announced the review of the Higher Education Business and Community Interactions (HE-BCI) survey in early 2019, but we had to pause initial work looking at user needs and priorities during the pandemic. Since then, we have made good progress in the review, working with the Higher Education Funding Bodies and the Office for Students.

Through a combination of user engagement and policy analysis we established priority areas. We also established a project board for statutory users of the dataset to advise us on their emerging needs. We want to improve trust in and quality of data in the following areas:

  • Geographic granularity
  • Commercialisation
  • Social and cultural interactions
  • Equality, diversity & inclusion (EDI)
  • In-kind contributions to collaborative research and partnerships
  • Staff and students as agents of knowledge exchange (KE).

In line with feedback from all sources we focussed on:

  • Improving the robustness of guidance and definitions.
  • Modernising approaches to collecting data on existing concepts.

You can find out more about our review work on the website.

We have already announced planned changes for 2022/3 data in the 2022/23 Notification of Changes. These include updated guidance, definitions, relabelling, and clarification of coverage  over all five tables of the HE-BCI survey. We have also consulted on improving data on in-kind contributions to collaborative research. The goal here is to ensure each provider uses an appropriate methodology based on a shared set of principles to achieve a more uniform quality standard. At the start of 2023, we issued proposals for improvements in a consultation. The sector’s positive response included a request for time and additional guidance to implement the changes. As noted in our recently published summary of responses to the in-kind consultation, we will implement enhancements to in-kind data in the 2023/24 collection.

Knowledge exchange 

We have progressed policy analysis across the other priority areas, outlining some key areas of interest in blogs summarising the past 18 months of work  on commercialisation and geographic granularity. We are now focussing our policy analysis on the role of students in knowledge exchange (KE), on equality, diversity and inclusion, and on social and cultural interactions. We want to improve our understanding of data recording practices within HE providers, relating to all these priority areas. For example, we are currently asking questions relating to staff roles in KE in our survey about the Staff record (which closes on Friday 13 October). Our overall aim is to better understand KE data collection practices of HE providers and how this data is being used for their own purposes. This exercise is dual-purpose and will help us define areas for consultation next year on the current variables in the HE-BCI survey, and also help us to better understand data practices, to inform wider work with others to develop new KE metrics in the long-term, beyond the scope of the HE-BCI review. This work consolidates our aim to identify data collection approaches that will create additional benefit while minimising the running costs for providers.

Our aim is to identify data collection approaches that will create additional benefit while minimising the running costs for providers

This autumn, we will launch an evidence-gathering exercise to answer these questions about data availability within the concepts in the HE-BCI survey. We want to understand more about the data that providers collect, including for their own uses, which will help us ensure our consultations on potential changes and future work on metric development is informed by real KE data practices at providers. Look out for a survey in November and opportunities to engage at events. Where this exercise reveals potential for improvements to the current dataset, we aim to consult on detailed proposals in spring 2024 and issue a further Notification of Changes.

We know the scale of the task of improving KE metrics goes far beyond the scale of a HESA data review. By the end of the review, we expect to modernise several aspects of the survey to make HE-BCI data more relevant for emerging uses, therefore even more valuable to its many stakeholders. We will focus on quality improvement to enhance our stakeholders’ confidence in using a wider pool of data from the survey for policy implementation. We intend to produce the final report and close the HE-BCI major review in summer 2024. At this point we will report on how the review has evolved the survey, and also discuss areas where learning and evidence from the review will provide a foundation for wider development of knowledge exchange data by HESA and others in the long-term.

We need new theoretical and research insights to support the development of new metrics and conceptual consideration to design the KE data architecture needed for the future. This is a priority area for policymakers, and Research England have announced ambitious plans to develop their national capability as a centre for university KE and impact evidence and metrics, in response to this need. We are proud to work alongside Research England as part of UKRI, and the University Commercialisation and Innovation policy evidence unit at the University of Cambridge (UCI) to support this vision to ultimately deliver enhanced KE data for all. In addition to the HE-BCI review we are therefore also delivering work on the data collection, ingestion, processing and publication capabilities that the new national capability will require.

The HE-BCI review is a strong foundation as we focus on developing national data on KE over the coming years. Collaborating with our members and customers and using the latest academic research will lead to a KE metrics infrastructure that not only reflects the diversity of KE practice, but supports policy innovation to create better outcomes for the economy, society, and all those involved in KE.

Dan Cook

Dan Cook

Deputy Director, Data & Innovation