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Who, what, when, and how - adding the 'where' to HE-BCI data

The current HE-BCI (Higher Education Business and Community Interactions) dataset helps us to answer only four of five questions: 

  1. Who (to an extent) is engaging in collaborative research and whether higher education providers are more likely to partner with small-medium sized enterprises  (SMEs) or their larger counterparts (non-SMEs)?
  2. What type of collaborations are most prevalent – whether publicly funded or contract research?
  3. When partnerships happen, year on year? Our official data outputs time series help us to develop a picture of collaborative activity across a three-year average.
  4. How partnerships are formed? We can start to understand this by analysing the HE-BCI dataset alongside other UK (United Kingdom) knowledge exchange datasets.

So where does that leave us? By process of elimination, our unanswered question is ‘Where?’

Why do we need to know place-based data?

Place-based strategies have become a focus of government education, research and business strategies across all four UK nations and outline higher education providers as research and development (R&D) rich sources and anchors within their localities.

In England, the government’s announcement to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2027 as a necessity to achieving economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic emphasised a greater investment in innovation, science and technology. Initiatives such as the UK Strength in Places fund aim to support these priorities with funding designed to support projects that intend to impact local and economic growth.

The creation of the City and Growth Deals programme in Northern Ireland demonstrated a commitment of £1 billion investment by the Department for Economy Northern Ireland to developing centres of excellence across Northern Ireland. With specific industrial and sector focuses, these centres are to be strategically located to draw on these existing areas of excellence and support their growth. The delivery of the encompassing 10x vision will be monitored based on 5 steps, of which ‘place’ features.

The Welsh Government’s Innovation Wales strategy highlights the significance of collaborative working as being crucial to effective research and development in Wales. Sustained financial support for Welsh-international partnerships has amounted to an increase in international collaboration between Welsh academia and businesses by 58% in 2018 compared to 2010 outputs and has placed Wales in the leading position amongst all UK nations for publication outputs.

There is an increasing need for a robust dataset that demonstrates the geographic position of existing business-academia partnerships. If we know where collaborations are taking place, we can begin to evaluate the effectiveness of increased investment in collaborative R&D partnerships across the UK. If we collect geographic data, we can target support and funding to maintain existing relations, and promote the uptake of new opportunities.
To determine where collaborative partnerships are taking place, we need to be able to identify where partners are geographically placed. By establishing where they are, we can then work to determine their proximity to one another.

What could geographic data tell us?

If we know where collaborative R&D is taking place, we can start to draw links between business-academia partnerships and the local socio-economic benefits of innovation.

We need the HE-BCI dataset to demonstrate collaborations between providers and organisations. We require quality data at a level that would support regional policymaking, certainly for the devolved administrations, but potentially at a more granular level. Whilst data at the level of the UK home nations would significantly advance our understanding, the focus on geography in policymaking suggests only high-level geographical data may not be as useful for effective local development plans. We need sources of evidence at a regional and city level to support strategies for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and other forms of social and economic development. We see the potential of policy-ready data: for researchers to analyse the regional economic value, in addition to university knowledge exchange activity. A more granular HE-BCI geographical dataset could mean this data was used to support knowledge exchange strategy and place-based development.

Power of geographically granular data: better collaboration mapping

In Scotland, data on collaborations within the nation is already required. It is collected via the supplementary  knowledge exchange (KE) Metric return, which is currently used alongside the HE-BCI dataset as a useful indicator of sector activity. By introducing place-based data into the HE-BCI collection, we could help to reduce burden to HE providers in Scotland and eliminate the need to make this additional return.

How could we define local?

To define the proximity of HE providers to partner organisations, we must identify where they are geographically placed. This could be achieved using postcode data as a unit reference point. In the case of multi-campus or multi-site locations, we could specifically use the postcode of the location from which colleagues engaging in the collaboration are working from. This level of detail would help to mitigate the ‘headquartering’ effect

By using postcode data we could then define the proximity of providers to their partner organisations in several ways. Firstly, we could consider the use of mileage - a method favoured by the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) in their annual State of the Relationship reports. Alternatively, we could explore the use of a standardised classification system such as the International Territorial Levels unit of measurement often used by councils and organisations such as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

How can you have your say?

We are currently seeking further information to understand what place-based data is available to HE providers. We want to know how this data is captured and how it is recorded. Part of our upcoming evidence-gathering exercise will be seeking responses to the following questions:

  • Is location data currently recorded?  
  • Are the locations of partner organisations known?
  • How is location data captured and held?
  • How could HE providers provide location data to HESA?    

Visit our Major review page for further information. Will will announce opportunities to get involved and outputs in the HESA weekly update. The HESA weekly update is available to anybody interested in data collection news and updates. You can change your preferences at any time.

Please contact [email protected] with any suggestions and feedback.

Hannah Browne

Hannah Browne

Lead Policy and Research Analyst