Exploring Educational Frameworks Across the UK: A Comparative Look at Knowledge Exchange and Teaching Excellence

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The UK’s higher education frameworks, shaped by devolved governance, play a critical role in regional development, business innovation, and community benefits. Each nation—England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—has distinct policies and funding structures. Elizabeth Goodyear explains how these frameworks work within each nation and how they compare to frameworks such as KEF and TEF.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the frameworks governing higher education across the UK play a crucial role in shaping collaborations, benefiting communities, enhancing regional development, and driving business innovation. With the devolved governance structure in place, each UK nation—England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—has developed distinct frameworks to guide and evaluate their higher education institutions. Although research is funded UK-wide, teaching, students and knowledge exchange are devolved to different nations, and there are different fees and student finance policies between these nations.

This blog delves into how these frameworks operate within each nation and how they compare to established systems like the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) and the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). TEF was set up as a requirement in England via the Office for Students, but it operates UK-wide.  Devolved nations can choose whether or not they participate and are also subject to other frameworks later on in this blog.  As discussed in previous blogs, in England, the KEF and TEF are pivotal in shaping university policies and priorities. The KEF is designed to assess how effectively institutions facilitate knowledge exchange with the business community, public and third sectors, enhancing socio-economic development. Meanwhile, the TEF evaluates universities based on the quality of teaching and the outcomes achieved by students, including employment prospects and continued studies.  This is delivered through university self-assessments alongside proxy data on student experience (National Student Survey), continuation rates (Higher Education Statistics Agency) and employment outcomes (HESA).

Scotland: Scottish Funding Council (SFC) Frameworks

Scotland’s approach to higher education, led by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), emphasises accessibility, sustainability, and the economic impact of higher education. While Scotland does not have direct equivalents to the KEF or TEF, it employs a holistic strategy focusing on outcome agreements between the SFC and individual institutions. These agreements set clear expectations for teaching quality, research innovation, and knowledge exchange, aligning with Scotland’s national priorities, such as inclusivity and economic development. The outcome agreements provide a strategic framework that ensures higher education institutions contribute to broader societal goals, including widening access to education, enhancing student experience, and fostering partnerships with industries and communities. This tailored approach ensures that Scotland’s higher education sector remains responsive to changing needs while promoting excellence and benefiting the country’s economy and society as a whole.

Northern Ireland: Department for the Economy (DfE) Strategies

Northern Ireland’s strategy for higher education, overseen by the Department for the Economy, prioritises innovation and skills development to stimulate economic growth. The focus is on aligning university outputs with the region’s economic needs and fostering strong partnerships between universities and industries. The emphasis is on achieving practical outcomes and ensuring that graduates are well-equipped to enhance the local workforce.

This strategy involves leveraging higher education as a driver for regional development by promoting courses and research aligned with key economic sectors. The aim is to create a skilled workforce that meets the needs of Northern Ireland’s industries, while also fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. This approach ensures that higher education contributes meaningfully to the region’s socio-economic well-being and future competitiveness.

Changes to Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) in April 2024: The Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act

In September 2022, the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022 received Royal Assent, marking a significant shift in how post-16 education and training are funded and regulated in Wales. As of April 2024, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales will be dissolved, and the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER) will become operational. The Act establishes CTER as a national body responsible for all post-16 education and training, including higher education, further education, apprenticeships, and research. CTER’s budget is anticipated to be around £800 million, making it one of Wales’s most funded arm’s-length bodies. The Act outlines 11 strategic duties for CTER, including promoting lifelong learning, equality of opportunity, and research. CTER’s Board and Executive will comprise 17 members, including representatives for learners and the education workforce, emphasising inclusive governance and a focus on global outlook and innovation.

Comparative Insights

Understanding the diverse educational frameworks across the UK is essential for fostering meaningful collaborations, supporting local communities, enhancing regional development, and nurturing business innovation. While the frameworks differ in structure and focus, they all aim to enhance the quality and impact of higher education. By recognising and appreciating these differences, stakeholders can effectively align their efforts with national priorities and leverage the unique strengths of each framework for the benefit of students, educators, and society at large. This holistic approach to higher education underscores the importance of tailored strategies in addressing communities’ varied needs and driving forward each region’s socio-economic well-being.

This blog was written by Elizabeth Goodyear, Programme Manager at City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham.


The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of City-REDI, WMREDI or the University of Birmingham.

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