Knowledge Exchange Framework 2023: sector spinouts worth billions

Latest KEF data reveals how Oxbridge offshoots turnover more than £40 million annually on average with impressive results found elsewhere in sector

September 27, 2023
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Spinout companies linked to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge generate annual revenues of about £12.5 billion, the latest results of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) show.

Based on intellectual property (IP) and commercialisation data collected for the third annual KEF, the University of Cambridge had the highest number of high-value spinouts, with 186 companies in 2021, with an average yearly turnover of £41.1 million. Overall, these firms – which had survived at least three years – had an annual turnover of £7.6 billion. The University of Oxford’s 114 spinouts had revenues of £4.9 billion, about £43 million per company.

The statistics, published on 27 September, are part of a large dataset collected by Research England as part of the KEF, which seeks to demonstrate universities’ impact on the economy and society.

Other results give an indication of how much regeneration and development funding was received by universities, how often academics published with industry partners or worked with local firms and how many graduate start-ups were founded at each institution.

On spinout turnover data, the UK’s oldest universities were followed by the University of Bath (whose offshoots generated £98 million in revenue in 2021), UCL (£83.8 million), the University of Surrey (£83.3 million) and Imperial College London (£81.7 million).

Excluding Oxbridge, the top 10 universities for spinout income generated incomes of £69 million per institution, the KEF figures suggest.

Of the non-Russell Group members, Bath, Coventry University (with spinouts worth £43 million annually), the Royal Northern College of Music (£42 million) and the Royal College of Art (£41 million) are the top-performing degree-awarding institutions for spinouts.

The annual publication does not rank institutions on any metrics and universities are instead grouped into “clusters” with peer institutions and assigned a quintile grade ranging from “very high engagement” to “very low engagement” based on various indicators.

Unlike the Research Excellence Framework, the KEF is not used to inform funding, though this might be considered in future by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Commenting on the latest results, Dame Jessica Corner, executive chair of Research England, said they showed how “across the breadth of higher education, institutions make rich and diverse contributions to the economy and society through their knowledge exchange activities”.

The KEF was a “powerful tool to describe the breadth of scope of knowledge exchange”, continued Dame Jessica, who said it “provides important evidence of different university strengths through peer group comparisons”.

“Research England’s knowledge exchange experts have presented some findings from KEF3 on comparative trends in the important government priority area of business engagement, as a taster of how it may be used as an analytical tool on sector performance dynamics,” she added.

KEF demonstrates the range of valuable activities universities conduct with external partners across seven perspectives. These perspectives include working with partners ranging from big businesses to small local firms, local growth, public and community engagement and how HE commercialises research. It also demonstrates the diversity of universities that deliver important activities for our economy and society.

KEF 2023: value of university spin-outs

  Overall annual turnover (£million) Companies  Average turnover (£million)
University of Cambridge 7659 186 41
University of Oxford 4972 114 44
University of Bath 98 13 7.5
UCL 84 58 1.4
University of Surrey 83 19 4.4
Imperial College London 81 59 1.4
University of Leeds 81 24 3.4
University of Southampton 70 27 2.6
Queen Mary University of London 63 18 3.5
Coventry University 43 10 4.3
University of Bristol 44 63 0.7
Royal Northern College of Music 42 1 42
Durham University 42 23 1.8
Institute of Cancer Research 41 2 20.5
Royal College of Art 35 28 1.2
University of Birmingham 33 37 0.8
King’s College London 25 19 1.3
University of Manchester 22 51 0.4
University of Sheffield 22 24 0.9
Middlesex University 19 4 4.7
City, University of London 16 10 1.6
University of Plymouth 15 7 2.1
Newcastle University 14 22 0.6
University of Nottingham 13 33 0.4
Cranfield University 12 6 2
Birkbeck, University of London 11 1 11
Loughborough University 10 14 0.7
University of East Anglia 9 10 0.9
University of Sussex 7 7 1
University of Exeter 6 22 0.3
University of Liverpool 5 7 0.7
University of Warwick 5 34 0.2
University of Leicester 5 5 1

Estimated current turnover of all active firms in 2021 surviving for longer than three years. Source: Research England/Higher Education Statistics Agency for KEF 2023

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