Knowledge Exchange 

Bringing together the worlds of business and academia

What is Knowledge Exchange?

Knowledge Exchange (KE) brings together the worlds of business and academia in a way that increases engagement and allows everyone to benefit from the power of new ideas.

Enterprise activities and KE are embedded in our culture and integral to everything we do. Our outward-looking approach puts the needs of the regional economy and our student body first. 

We aim to deliver economic growth, productivity enhancement and social impact through five key themes:

  • Research and knowledge transfer
    We collaborate closely with companies and public sector organisations to pursue new knowledge transfer projects that support and encourage all forms of innovation.
     
  • Degree apprenticeships and work-based learning
    One of the UK’s leading providers, our degree apprenticeships and work-based learning initiatives are specially designed to fill skill gaps in business and industry.
     
  • Employability and entrepreneurship
    We value independent thinking and entrepreneurship, with our students well-prepared for the world of business and ranking highly for employability.
     
  • Regional and civic engagement
    Our regional and civic engagement aligns with our core mission: to collaborate and coproduce mutually beneficial activities with the people who live, work and study in the West Midlands. 
     
  • Business engagement 
    We provide innovative services for new businesses, Small Medium-sized (SMEs) and large companies through our dedicated business support programmes focusing on leadership, innovation and growth

Summary of our KE approach

 

Research that makes a difference

Tackling the social and economic challenges of today hinges upon the effective exchange of knowledge and specialist expertise between a wide range of institutions and people.

Our research strategy focuses on four University Research Institutes and the expansion of our interdisciplinary research centres. All are regional, national, and international leaders in their respective fields, and their exceptional work is having a significant impact on industry, the public sector and individuals. 

Our work in Knowledge Exchange informs and influences policy to foster a culture of evidence-based policymaking. This process takes many forms, including providing advice to government, organising policy briefings in areas such as bioenergy and ethnic minority entrepreneurship, and using our research and influence to improve policymaking practices internationally.

We work closely with regional bodies, developing shared projects that benefit citizens through our Civic University Agreement. These are designed to bring the benefits of research to the West Midlands by developing strategies that focus on the following themes:

  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Sustainable Business Growth & Productivity
  • Environment & Low Carbon Energy
  • Crime & Justice
  • Education & Employment
  • COVID-19 Recovery Planning

We have also forged close partnerships with other research-focused universities through Midlands Innovation. Our joint strengths in critical areas such as energy, transport, and health are unlocking exciting new avenues of engagement—these range from public partnerships through to deeper collaborations with government and commerce.

Collectively, these relationships are vital to everything we do, and we go the extra mile to keep beneficiaries engaged with our research every step of the way.
 

Helping organisations to innovate

We strive to produce up-to-date research that delivers better services, processes and products. This means challenging traditional thinking to help our partners to achieve a global impact. We support a wide range of collaborative research and business support programmes that are designed to encourage and accelerate the pace of change.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) are one of the most efficient and effective tools available to businesses who want to drive up competitiveness and productivity. By giving them the opportunity to partner with some of the UK’s leading experts, these knowledge-based partnerships allow companies to draw on the latest academic thinking and leverage it to deliver innovative and strategically important business projects.

Our long and rich research heritage has made us one of the UK’s most active and successful institutions for KTP, boasting the most extensive portfolio in the West Midlands and ranking 8th in the UK overall.

Aston University’s research footprint and the impact it leaves on industry is growing year on year, with businesses that engage in Knowledge Transfer Partnerships benefitting from an average 1107% return on investment from their initial grants. In September 2020, Aston’s excellence was recognised by Innovate UK at their national ‘Best of the Best’ KTP Awards.

Here is a small sample of our projects:

  • Sarissa
  • Rimilia
  • Metal Assemblies
Commercial impact

Increasing numbers of businesses and institutions are beginning to grasp the transformative and competitive advantages that research can offer. As part of our commitment to maximising the commercial impact of our research, our experienced Knowledge Exchange team is continually evaluating new means of protecting, managing, and commercialising our Intellectual Property (IP).

Our track record of research exploitation dates back over 40 years, with one of our earliest and most renowned success stories being the revolutionary anti-cancer medication, Temozolomide. This blockbuster drug became the treatment of choice for some of the most hard-to-treat brain cancers and achieved annual worldwide sales of over $1bn.

Research England praised our IP and commercialisation efforts in the 2021 Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), placing us in the top 30 per cent of comparable institutions for intellectual property (IP) and commercialisation.
 
However, the process of producing new research never ends, and new frontiers of research are opening up all the time. To stay at the forefront of research, we offer an in-house team of KE experts and are active members of both Midlands Innovation and the MICRA gateway—a partnership between eight research-oriented universities in the Midlands. We share best practices and combine resources with other Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) across the UK. Membership of these organisations also empowers our business partners with rapid access to Intellectual Property Case Managers and the expertise they offer.

The MICRA gateway provides a powerful and practical all-in-one point of contact for industry, as well as a means of showcasing the region’s remarkable history of IP offerings. The result is a versatile ecosystem where industry receives access to the tools and people they need, and research excels hand-in-hand with commerce.
 
Equipped with the right knowledge and know-how, businesses are free to enjoy the full benefits of shared research while capitalising on the West Midlands’ industrial strengths.

Highlights of our work include:

  • GridEdge
    Pioneering Artificial Intelligence for building energy systems
     
  • Salts
    Developing novel stoma products to improve the lives of patients
     
  • Eyoto
    Creating new, advanced tele-optometry solutions for the worldwide optical industry
     
  • Isogenica
    Developing unique antibody libraries for drug and diagnostic development
Public Engagement

Public engagement is a vital part of effective Knowledge Exchange, and we make sure to involve the public at every possible stage. We approach individuals and communities to encourage participation in planning new research, inviting them to contribute to science and even co-produce projects where possible.

Sharing the impact that our research has on the everyday lives of people is a vital part of what makes research at Aston stand out from the crowd, and we do this through digital events, case studies, face-to-face talks, seminars, roadshows and much more.

Public engagement can take many different forms, including:

  • Crowdsourcing scientific and computational challenges
  • Producing projects in cooperation with the public
  • Sharing science with the public and media to explore its impact on everyday life
  • Inspiring the next generation of scientists with events
  • Mapping out the future medical research with patient input

Valuable partnerships with stakeholders like Citizens UK also provide us with a direct means of engaging with the public, including the diverse communities of Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Few projects highlight the power of public engagement and Knowledge Exchange better than Aston Villa’s promotion of eye health in the form of Aston Vision. Part-funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), this collaboration brought together a diverse mix of experts, including professors of optometry, translators, and specialists in ethnic minority entrepreneurship. Together they worked with the Aston Villa Foundation, Citizens UK, and their community anchor partners to hold a series of well-attended community listening events.

With the Premier League and the PFA’s backing, Aston Villa’s optometrist received support from our students and access to equipment provided by Essilor. Together they delivered workshops and eye tests to the local community and local schools. Meaningful public engagement like this acts as a powerful tool, both for raising awareness around the importance of research and improving healthcare accessibility.
 

Measuring progress in Knowledge Exchange

To remain at the forefront of Knowledge Exchange nationally and internationally, we are continuously monitoring and benchmarking our progress against competitors. Not only do frameworks such as REF and KEF help us demonstrate our successful track record to potential collaborators and partners, they also help to underpin a culture of excellence and best practice. 

Aston is a signatory of the national Knowledge Exchange Concordat – an agreement that will encourage the sharing and implementation of best practice sector-wide.
 

Knowledge Exchange Concordat

The Government is committed to a strategic, long-term approach to Knowledge Exchange. In return, it expects universities to demonstrate the value of what they do while pursuing excellence and sharing good practice.
 
The Knowledge Exchange Concordat has been introduced to ensure that universities and other providers of higher education and research work effectively; not only with each other, but with businesses and other organisations.
 
In December 2019, our Vice-Chancellor committed Aston to the Concordat. This places us amongst the first cohort of UK universities to become signatories, and demonstrates the significance of Knowledge Exchange in delivering on our commitment to continuous improvement.
 
Signatories will be expected to:

  • Publicly commit to the Knowledge Exchange Concordat
  • Adopt the eight principles outlined in the KE Concordat as a framework for effective KE
  • Actively engage with the KE Concordat through forums and webinars, sharing good practice
  • Following the development year, participate in an evaluation process during which a HEP will carry out a self-evaluation and produce an action plan.

 
In addition to the above, those who sign up to the development year are expected to:
 

  • Make clear to staff, students and partners what they will do and how they are expected to work with their partners
  • Conduct a self-evaluation of their strategy for KE and practices, using the KE Concordat principles as a framework
  • Submit an action plan that identifies: areas where improvement is needed, the top five priority actions for HEP across the eight principles, and any innovative approaches that can be shared as examples of best practice
  • Consider and respond to feedback and advice from the evaluation panel.
Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)

We are committed to undertaking research that makes a tangible difference to the economy and broader society. The role of measuring that performance falls to the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).

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.

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 and provide businesses and other users with more information to help them access world-class knowledge and expertise.

Working with business and supporting local growth and regeneration

Compared to other universities with a similar profile in the exercise, Aston University is in the top 20 per cent for working with business and supporting local growth and regeneration.

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 programme 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.

Intellectual property (IP)

Aston University also performed well in the intellectual property (IP) and commercialisation category, being placed in the top 30 per cent of comparable institutions.

 

Research Excellence Framework (REF)

REF is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research publications, the impact of said research, and the research environment in UK higher education institutions. Measuring impact is a central pillar of REF, and in 2014 we ranked in the top 20 of UK universities for 3* and 4* rated impact. This puts us ahead of Birmingham, Warwick and many other competitors in the higher education sector. Submissions will be made to REF 2021 in the coming months and Aston’s submission will include 36 new Impact Case Studies drawn from across the University.


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