Maximising Our Impact

Maximising Our Impact

Knowledge Exchange (KE) has firmly become the third mission of HKU – it cuts across all disciplines and is the "natural" process in the University's interactions with the community, from licensing inventions to developing models to address social problems to engaging the public in culture and the humanities. But rewind a few years back and the KE management was facing the challenge of a much narrower focus in the local higher education sector.

The benefits of "Knowledge transfer", as it is called by the University Grants Committee (UGC), were assessed by both the UGC and most of the institutions based on financial indicators, such as patent numbers, licensing income, contract research and spinoffs. To Professor John Bacon-Shone, who was appointed Associate Director of the KE Office in 2009, this was a very limiting approach.

"Of course if you have a brilliant idea and you patent it, you want to license it as far as possible. But even in the context of a patent, the objective is not always to maximise the amount of money earned. Sometimes you want to maximise the usage of your idea in society. Financial indicators cannot encompass everything that a comprehensive university like HKU does," he said.

The University took on board this concept and set out to embed KE activities in all disciplines. Each Faculty now has a faculty KE unit led by an Associate Dean with dedicated support staff. Competitive funding for KE projects has been introduced to enable staff members to undertake projects that are underpinned by HKU knowledge and have potential impact on non-academic sectors. KE is also now a factor in the yearly faculty resource allocation process and has been included in academic staff performance reviews.

Since the beginning Professor Bacon-Shone has emphasized that KE must be based on strong research or teaching and learning in HKU, dispelling any scepticism that KE is only for those who do not excel in either.

The result of these measures is that HKU now hosts a rich variety of KE activities. Some are University-wide, such as the HKU Scholars Hub (see page 2) and 3MT Competition (see page 7), while many are initiated by individual academics or faculties and by students. Examples of these projects can be found at the KE websiteKE Awards have also been introduced since 2011 to reward those that achieved significant impact, which are honoured at the annual award presentation ceremony together with teaching and research awards.

"The value of these awards is that they show people how broad the scope is of KE activities across the University," Professor Bacon-Shone said. "Indeed, we encourage and recognize impact not only on the economy, but also on society, culture, public policy, health, the environment and quality of life. With persistence we have been making this point to the UGC, and I am glad that in 2012 the UGC adopted some of the non-financial performance indicators that we have been using since 2009. Locally we are probably the first one with a universal, broad strategy across the whole university. I have given talks to other institutions and we are happy to share our experience."

Some of HKU's initiatives have been inspired by ideas from universities overseas, such as 3MT from the University of Queensland. "We can learn from others and do a lot more, such as building an entrepreneurial culture on campus," Professor Bacon-Shone said.

Looking ahead, the University has been closely following the 2014 Research Excellence Framework exercise in the UK, which gave 20% weighting to impact beyond academia. Whether the future research assessment exercise in Hong Kong follows this path, impact will become an important focus of HKU's KE strategy.