Published on 31/03/2021
Aston University campus exterior
  • New sector-wide exercise to assess universities’ knowledge exchange activities launched
  • Aston University rated in top 20 per cent for working with business and supporting local growth and regeneration
  • High performance driven by strengths in collaborative research and business support programmes for SMEs, including support during COVID-19 pandemic.

Aston University’s successful track record of working with business and its role in local growth and regeneration have been recognised in a new national system for measuring universities’ contribution to knowledge exchange (KE) and the impact this has on the country.

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), led by Research England, is a sector-wide, institutional-level exercise to inform and assess KE activities of UK higher education institutions and how they benefit society and the economy.

Compared to other universities across the sector, Aston University is in the top 20 per cent for working with business and supporting local growth and regeneration. Aston University also performed well in the intellectual property (IP) and commercialisation category, being placed in the top 30 per cent.

This draws directly from Aston University’s strengths in collaborative research and its focus on providing consultancy solutions to industry problems. It also reflects its work through the government’s flagship Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme in which it is an acknowledged sector leader.

Aston University’s high performance for local growth and regeneration is a result of its investment in delivering business support programmes to SMEs and, more recently, helping them adapt and thrive during and after COVID-19 in areas such as advanced materials, data analytics and small business leadership development.

The KEF aims to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public funding for KE and to further a culture of continuous improvement in universities.

It allows universities to better understand and improve their own performance, as well as providing businesses and other users with more information to help them access world-class knowledge and expertise.

Information about the ways in which universities help level up their local areas is one of the highlights of the data released in this first iteration of the KEF.

The data, available on the KEF’s interactive and detailed new website from midday on Wednesday 31 March, informs a series of metrics that look at the performance of English higher education providers (HEPs) from a variety of different perspectives.

These include public and community engagement, working with partners - ranging from big businesses to small local firms - and how they commercialise their research.

This data shows the rich contributions English HEPs make, both economically and socially, on both local and national levels. The knowledge exchange that underpins the KEF will help promote cooperation and drive continuous improvement in the higher education sector.

It comes at a vital time as the UK continues to fight back against COVID-19, aiming to provide a better structure for the sharing and development of life-saving research and in-demand skills by outlining good practice and showing what works. 

The KEF sits alongside the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Together, they form an assessment of the quality of work universities undertake.

These results follow other recent national recognition for Aston University, including being named The Guardian University of the Year 2020 and The Times Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2020.

Professor Alec Cameron, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said:

“Aston University has made a strategic choice to prioritise knowledge exchange, enterprise and public engagement to build on its core strengths of graduate employability, entrepreneurship, small business growth, innovation and research with impact.

“We have a history of generating societal benefit through innovation. The blockbuster brain cancer drug Temozolamide, originated at Aston University, started us on a path of adding value to everyday life through science that drives our intellectual property and spin-out activity to this day.

“We also use our knowledge exchange strengths to improve social mobility and address regional challenges through widening participation and pathway programmes to increase access to exclusive professions, support small business growth, promote sustainability and reduce health and other inequalities.”


Notes to editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world. The University also has TEF Gold status in the Teaching Excellence Framework. 

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press & PR Officer, on 07557 745416 or email

Be first to get the latest news, research and expert comment from Aston
following us on Twitter or subscribing to our press list.

Need an expert for your story? Browse our expert directory


Sue Smith,
Head of Press and Communications


Sam Cook,
Press and Communications Manager


Nicola Jones,
Press and Communications Manager


Helen Tunnicliffe,
Press and Communications Manager


Alternatively, email
Courses by subject area