The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange

In a previous blog, which was posted indeed quite a while ago, I presented some preliminary results from a working paper we did on the state of knowledge exchange between academics and their stakeholder in Ireland (see full paper at SSRN: To a large extent, our paper was inspired by an existing study in the UK which was conducted by the CBR at the University of Cambridge in 2008.

One of the main concerns I highlighted in the end of the blog (and the paper) was that most of such studies tend to be one-off, due to the high cost and amount of human resources required by national level surveys. Nevertheless, it is crucial to have some longitudinal evidence to find out how the picture changes over time.

Recently, the CBR team, together with some other organisations, have released a report titled ‘The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange’, in which they basically updated the results of their survey to UK academics with regard to knowledge exchange activities (see the full report here:

Thus, the 2015 survey allows for some comparisons to be drawn with the results from the 2009 survey. Both surveys collected data on interaction for a three year period prior to the survey date, i.e. 2012-2015 for the 2015 survey round and 2005-2008 for the 2008 survey round.

In this blog, I would like to show some comparisons between the results of their 2008 and 2015 surveys, in particular the extent of external engagement.

A factor analysis (principal component analysis) was carried out by the CBR team to categorise activities into five broad groups:

  • Training – the training of company employees and joint student project-supervision and placements;
  • Meetings, consulting and advice – informal exchanges with external organisations and advisory agreements that do not require original research;
  • Joint research – commissioned research as well as original joint research that can involve research consortia or personnel exchange and can result in joint publications with external partners;
  • Commercial activities and services – patenting and prototyping for external organisations, as well as the creation of new companies and new physical facilities; and
  • Public engagement – engagement through school projects, and public lectures and exhibitions.

Figures 1 to 5 below illustrate the changes over the two periods in the five groups of activities aforementioned. In particular, the significance of difference is included in the parentheses (** significant at the 1% level, * significant at the 5% level using McNemar’s chi-square test).

Fig 1Fig 2Fig 3Fig 4Fig 5

Overall, there is a downward trend of the intensity of activity between the two survey periods. More specific, 15 out of 25 activities saw their intensity decreased, while only 10 activities saw their intensity increased. For 10 of those 15 activities whose intensity declined the difference was significant at least at the 5% level. There are, however, 5 activities whose intensity increased significantly (at least at the 5% level): enterprise education, sitting on advisory boards, joint publications, hosting of personnel, and lectures for the community.

There have been hot debates about the reason for the drop-off among scholars. As reported, Rosa Fernandez, director of research at the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), one of the organisations involved in the research, said that the financial crisis of 2007-08 had been the main reason. Times Higher Education (THE), quoted Tim Hughes, professor of applied marketing at the University of the West of England, “I don’t really but that recession argument.” It seems too convenient to link the decline of activity engagement with the recession, and further investigations are required in this direction. More likely, the recession might have different impacts on different institutions, different subjects, and different activities.

The comparison is important in the way that it provides longitudinal evidence which is currently lacking in the Irish context. It is of interest, and probably of necessity, that the knowledge exchange survey could be carried out again some time in the near future.


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