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Academic Survey (2016-2017)


A consortium of BIS, HEFCE, and several research councils (EPSRC, ESRC, AHRC, NERC and MRC) funded this project which repeated the highly successful academic survey research which was directed by Michael Kitson and Alan Hughes in 2009. The original research project was rated as outstanding in the ESRC evaluation process. This new project included co-investigators at Imperial College (Professor Alan Hughes) and at the University of Bath (Dr Cornelia Lawson and Professor Ammon Salter). The project was initially due to be completed by the end of the 2015, however, as described below further funding for additional research was subsequently added and the project was extended to October 2016. Dissemination and publication of survey based research and policy development has continued through 2016-2017.

Aims & objectives

With significant changes in the policy landscape for research happening since the 2009 UK-wide survey of academics, there existed a unique window of opportunity for undertaking a new survey as equivalent to the previous survey as possible. The new survey was designed to enable the cross-section comparison between 2009-2015. It also allowed the creation of a panel database consisting of academics who responded to both surveys. This allowed analysis of changes in attitudes towards impact and knowledge exchange in the UK. Although the evaluation of impact in REF and the REF impact database has provided new evidence of a cultural shift and detail on the actions that lead to impact, the repeat of the CBR’s UK-wide survey provides systematic longitudinal evidence on the ‘impact’ of the impact agenda.


The survey instrument was designed in 2015. A hand collected and cleaned database of the email addresses of over 130,000 academics was constructed as the sample frame. The survey was completed in 2015 with over 18,177 responses. When combined with the 21,598 responses to the 2009 survey this has created the largest ever survey database for the analysis of a higher education sector. The surveys in both years are fully representative of the academic population and contain no significant response biases. In 2016, the original project was augmented in two ways. First, the sponsors agreed to a separate survey of Research Council Institutes. These are directly owned or supported by research councils and their researchers sit outside the normal academic survey sample frame. The survey was designed and completed in 2016 and included over 600 responses (a response rate of over 20 per cent). A report on the findings of this survey was published in November 2016. Second, the ESRC commissioned a specific analysis of social scientists in the main 2015 academic database. This disaggregated analysis was completed in 2016 and a report submitted to and published by the ESRC in 2016. 


The analysis of the main survey confirmed the wide range of knowledge exchange activities undertaken by university academics. The changed economic circumstances in 2015 compared to 2009 might have been expected to have resulted in significant falls in these activities since the initial survey took place prior to the financial crisis and the subsequent period of economic austerity. Whilst there were some declines in some pathways, in particular, as might have been expected, those of a more commercial kind (patent and licensing and spin formation), the overall picture was of a sustained range of engagement across all disciplines and all impact pathways. The analysis of the unique panel database of over 4,000 academics who responded to both surveys showed that engagement is a sustained activity, often learn through experience: past engagement encourages future engagement. This has three policy implications. First, training and support for junior academics to learn how to successfully engage with external organisations may help start academics on ‘a pathway to engagement’ early on in their careers. Second, those not engaging are more focused on basic research are and are unlikely to start engaging. This suggests the impact agenda may have little effect on those individuals with a research orientation towards basic research and those with little experience in engagement. This may represent an appropriate degree of differentiation and of specialisation in the nature of research motivation and activity. Third, the analysis suggests that most effective route for policy may be to provide measures to sustain the activities of academics who are both predisposed to engagement and are actively involved in it. 

Further work based on the nature of knowledge exchange in the survey and its impact has continued. This has focussed on the integration of university and scientific engagement activity into industry value chains and the implications for Science Policy and the new UK Industrial Strategy. In journal publications, submissions to the consultation on the UK Industrial Strategy White Paper and conference presentations it has been argued that the impact of UK public sector research activity and industry engagement requires the identification of the way science based value is captured by UK businesses and the extent to which it accrues in the UK. Value Chains and not sectors technologies or “missions” should be the subject of selective industrial policy support.  

Research reports

Hughes, A., Lawson,C ., Salter,A., Kitson ,M. with Bullock, A. and Hughes, R. (2016) The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange: UK Academic Interactions with External Organisations (London: NCUB)

Hughes, A., Hughes, R.B., Kitson, M. and Bullock, A. (2016) Knowledge Exchange and Research Council Institutes; Interactions with External Organisations 2012-2015, forthcoming. 

Lawson,C., Hughes, A., Salter, A., Kitson ,M. with Bullock, A. and Hughes, R. (2016) Knowledge Exchange in UK Universities: Results from a Panel of Academics 2005-15 (London: NCUB)

Working papers

Lawson, C., Hughes,A. Kitson M. and Salter,A. (2017) “Citizens of Nowhere? Examining the geography of foreign and native-born academics’ engagement with external actors” to be submitted to Research Policy.

Conference/Workshop papers

Hughes, A (2017) The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange in UK Universities. Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster. 11 May 2017.

Hughes, A. 2016 Transitions in External Academic Engagement Presentation at the 2016 Annual Conference of the Technology Transfer Society, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona  3-5 November 2016.

Hughes, A. 2016 Knowledge Exchange in the Arts and Humanities Presentation to the 2016 Annual Conference of the Association for University Research and Industry Links (AURIL), Edinburgh 6-7 October 2016. 

Hughes, A., "Knowledge Exchange and the Social Sciences", Seventh Annual Meeting of the ESRC with Learned Societies The Army and Navy Club, Pall Mall, London, 28 June 2016. 

Hughes,A. and Lawson, C. (2016) "The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange :UK Academic Interactions with External Organisations 2005 -2015", NCUB launch Event London, 11 February 2016. 

Hughes, A., "The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange: UK Academic Interactions with External Organisations 2005 -2015", Praxis/Unico Annual Conference on Knowledge Exchange Radisson Blu Hotel London, 21 April 2016. 

Kitson, M. (2016), Competitiveness and new paradigms of growth, World Forum of Regional and Sun-national Legislative Assemblies, Milan, 23 - 24 October 2016.

Other publications

Hughes, A. and Spring, M. (June 2017) Creating the Competitive Edge: value chains, institutional architecture and the appropriation of value in UK manufacturing. Centre for Productivity and Efficiency, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster.

Hughes, A. (May 2017) “Academic Engagement and Collaboration with External Organisations: A Regional Perspective” in State of the Relationship 2017. National Centre for Universities and Business, London, pp 72-79. 

Hughes, A (with Spring, M. Mason, K. and McCaffrey,P). (2017) “Creating the Competitive Edge: A New Relationship Between Operations Management and Industrial Policy” Journal of Operations Management 49-51: 6-19.

Hughes, A. with Cosh, A. D. (September 2016) “The Legacy of Ajit Singh 11 September 1940 to 23 June 2015” Economic and Labour Relations Review 27(3): 293-313, 

Hughes, A. and others (2016) “Measuring Knowledge Exchange in the Arts and Humanities” Proceedings of the AURIL Conference 2016  Association for University Research and Industry Links (AURIL) London.

Hughes, A. (2016) “The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange in the UK 2005-15” in UIIM University Industry Innovation Network Magazine 2016(1):6-11.

Hughes, A., Hughes, R., Kitson, M. and Bullock, A. (2016) Knowledge Exchange and Research Council Institutes, National Centre for Universities and Business, London, October.

Project leader

Michael Kitson


Michael Kitson (Cambridge)
Ammon Salter (Bath)
Alan Hughes (Imperial College)

Research fellow

Cornelia Lawson

Database management and survey research support

Anna Bullock
Robert Hughes

Project status


Project dates