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HE-BCI major review: phase one consultation

In June 2019 we hosted an online evidence-gathering exercise to help us understand more about the relative issues with the current guidance for reporting 'in-kind' contributions and the burden associated with reporting them.


In conclusion, the views of the respondents can be summarised into the following:

  • Need for greater acknowledgment of the social and cultural impacts of 'in-kind' contributions.
  • Need for further guidance for the assignment of monetary values to intangible assets.
  • Further guidance to support the return of assigned monetary value and suggested common types of 'in-kind' contributions.
  • Support in sharing best practice of how to capture metrics required at the point of contracts being created (pre-award) rather than post-award.
  • Need for greater clarity on the level of accountability required for submitting values with limited references to the data being auditable.

As announced in January 2022, HESA is currently undertaking a major review of the Higher Education – Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) data collection. HESA’s project mandate provides the background and requirements for a major review to the collection. 
The first phase of the major review of the Higher Education Business and Community Interactions (HE-BCI) data collection was conducted in 2019. During this phase HESA consulted with the higher education (HE) sector and sought feedback from its representatives to understand the following:   

  • What data in HE-BCI is no longer sufficiently valuable, and what should be discontinued?
  • What are the main uses of the current data about Higher Education interactions with Business and the Community, which should be preserved?  
  • What adaptations or new concepts might be necessary to ensure user needs for data about Higher Education interactions with Business and the Community can be met in the future?  
  • What data about Higher Education interactions with Business and the Community is currently compiled (in HE providers and elsewhere) which could be made available, either to reduce duplication or enhance value for users?  
  • What alternative data standards already exist in this domain, and are they suitable for use?  
  • In what ways should HESA be improving its outputs to better meet user needs?    

Need for improved consistency in the data

Respondents to the 2019 HE-BCI consultation  demonstrated a requirement to enhance the consistency in reporting 'in-kind' contributions in Table 1 and identified a need to develop guidance in supporting the valuation of 'in-kind' contributions. Feedback demonstrated the need for greater clarity on the required level of accuracy and accountability when assigning values and felt examples of these would be beneficial in supporting HE providers and external partners in attributing values to contributions at the point of initial contract. They shared that taking examples from other data collection resources and guidance would help to align their own work and help develop a basis from which values can be repeatedly and reliably assigned. Whilst they did not make direct reference to such resources, it was noted that a consistency in methodology and guidance would be helpful in reducing burden and improving consistency across the sector. Furthermore, they felt this would develop their own confidence in both the onward use of 'in-kind' data by both them and external colleagues, but also in the completion of the data collection.

Income as a proxy measurement

The use of income as a proxy measure for the value of impact was widely regarded as being inadequate. However, it was felt that where necessary, the measure of income should be more granular. It was felt that collaborations and projects at smaller scales, or those generating greater 'in-kind' than monetary incomes, were often excluded from their returns due to not meeting the current financial threshold. In enabling the return of interactions receiving smaller quantities of income it was felt better representation of KE activities could be demonstrated, thus enhancing the measure of breadth and value of KE. This point was supported by comments portraying HE providers’ increased effort to collaborate with micro and SMEs as a disadvantage to them when analysing the data. It was commonly held that work with SME partners (and when working with community or charitable groups) typically produces smaller financial incomes to the HE provider.

Whilst there were no suggestions of alternative metrics it was suggested that where income as a proxy is currently used, the accompanying guidance was insufficient in supporting an HE provider’s estimation of a monetary value to such assets. Specific concerns were expressed around the attribution of monetary values to intangible assets, with frequent examples being the use of datasets, discounted access to public archives or the permission to exploit intellectual property outside of the HE provider's creation. Whilst the provision of such assets was considered to represent a significant demonstration of knowledge exchange between the involved parties, it was felt that the lack of clear guidance often resulted in their exclusion from the returned data.

References to audit and accountability

References to 'audit' stressed the importance of accountability, and the suggestive use of a prescriptive methodology often resulted in an HE provider questioning their level of confidence in the income values reported for these assets, again often resulting in their exclusion from the record. To alleviate this and facilitate confidence and reliable data submission the respondents requested improved support in the form of elaborated guidance to help them determine values. This included the use of examples of monetary values assigned to common types of 'in-kind' contributions to help guide HE providers in their own allocations.

Variations in recording practices across the sector

Respondents felt that a lack of a centralised internal system to record collaborative contracts and the assets recorded against these was limiting their ability to capture, collate and report the data specific to contracts, and ensure consistency in their reporting. There was an acute awareness of the varying recording practices held between academic and non-academic staff, agents of knowledge exchange (whether staff or students) and those submitting data to HESA, and the varying nature of the relationships that helped to facilitate formal collaborative research partnerships between parties. Without being able to confidently record the non-monetary contributions outlined in research contracts HE providers felt that there was often an underrepresentation of the contributions they do receive. Similarly, they expressed a concern for the point at which contributions are required to be outlined, suggesting that obtaining values of contributions from partners pre-award was often difficult. Similarly, concern was shared around the variation in contributions stated pre- and post-award, and it was felt that, following the completion of a project, the opportunity to obtain re-estimated contributions values from the providing collaborative partner had passed. These independently reported views identified a collective concern by HE providers of varying sizes, strategic focuses, and academic specialisms. Therefore, it may be suggested that the worry of interdepartmental disparities in data recording practices extends to an inter-institutional level, thus calling into question the consistency and reliability of the 'in-kind' data obtained from the HE-BCI data return.

Providers also report the lack of an available centralised grant management system can make the collation of required data a challenging and burdensome task. They explained that there is often a lack of internal communication between colleagues which may be exacerbated by a lack of understanding/ appreciation for the HE-BCI data set. They reports that this can obstruct central data submission teams finding the relevant data from academics and faculties undertaking collaborative work. Furthermore, the lack of a single source of data capture risks data being duplicated in various systems, often lacking synchronisation. It is felt that in these instances the data quality is vulnerable and the accuracy of that submitted to HE-BCI may be of reduced reliability. As a result, providers requested guidance on how they can facilitate meaningful conversations with internal colleagues to develop confident systems of data capture and collation, along with suggested forms of recording and maintaining the data required for the collection.

Summary of findings

In conclusion, the requirements and concerns of the respondents can be summarised into the following:

  • Identification of the social and cultural impacts of 'in-kind' contributions.
  • Further support to attribute monetary values to intangible assets.
  • Further guidance to support the return of assigned monetary value and suggested common types of 'in-kind' contributions.
  • Support in sharing best practice of how to capture metrics required at the point of contracts being created (pre-award) rather than post-award.
  • Limited references to values being auditable.