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Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)

Knowledge exchange is the translation of knowledge and research into impact for the benefit of the economy and wider society.

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) is a national exercise conducted by Research England to explore the different ways universities collaborate with external partners, from businesses to community groups.
Take a look at the KEF dashboard (external link)
Calman Building

The KEF Perspectives

Now in its third year, the KEF aims to capture the diverse ways English universities continue to engage with society and the economy. 

The KEF groups institutions with similar characteristics into clusters and records knowledge exchange engagement levels across seven ‘Perspectives’. Durham University is in Cluster X.

KEF Perspective

Durham engagement levels 2023

Research partnerships

Quintile 3

Medium engagement

Working with business

Quintile 4

High engagement

Working with the public and third sector

Quintile 4

High engagement

CPD and graduate start-ups

Quintile 2

Low engagement

Public and community engagement

Quintile 2

Low engagement

Local growth and regeneration

Quintile 4

High engagement

IP and commercialisation

Quintile 4

High engagement

What we achieve together

Durham is a world-leading university, and proudly part of North East England. Our knowledge exchange activities help create impact - from inspiring learning to sharing our facilities; from driving economic growth to helping our region become more sustainable. 

We work with partners to drive investment, innovation, job creation and development, and the adaptation of our economy for the challenges that lie ahead.

We are actively engaged with our local communities to tackle inequalities and embrace new opportunities through our impactful research, innovation and investment to transform lives for the better. 

We also have a strong focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which provide a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future. We have mapped the SDGs onto our research, teaching, wider student experience and global activities. We ensure that the benefits of a world-leading university are shared not just regionally but globally.


University student
As a long-standing regional anchor institution, knowledge exchange is a key priority to ensure that our activities benefit our communities and society more broadly. Partnership working is at the core of everything we do and our successful track record of working with the public, private and third sectors continues to strengthen the impact of our research. We are working hard to continue to embed enterprise across our activities, enhancing our students’ experience and supporting businesses to start-up, innovate and grow. Through the Northern Accelerator programme our academic spin-outs are also helping to create exciting and innovative businesses to further boost economic prosperity.

Colin Bain
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research)


What we achieve together: economic impact

In 2022, we commissioned an independent report to establish just how the University contributes to the economic, cultural and social vibrancy of North East England.

Working in partnership

We produce and disseminate research that has a positive impact on global, national and regional challenges, and which benefits culture, society, health, the economy and the physical environment.

We work closely with a variety of external partners including local, national and international businesses, the government and third sector and the NHS, positioning them at the forefront of innovation by providing opportunities for joint research, consultancy, and access to our cutting-edge equipment and facilities.


Case studies

Our research partnerships are at the heart of everything we do.

P&G: Chemistry of Cleaning

Our award-winning strategic partnership with P&G has enabled unique and globally scalable innovations that have improved billions of consumers' lives around the world.
P&G chemistry v-1

Atom bank's digital twin

Atom bank and Durham University have a strong history of partnering together to explore and drive innovation.
Atom Bank livery on wall

Joining forces with NHS Foundation Trust to enhance healthcare and research  

We have joined forces with the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT) to promote greater collaboration in healthcare and research.   
A large group of Durham and NHS representatives standing outside Durham Hospital

Working with Durham County Council

We’re proud to be working together with partners for the good of our city, county and region – communities we’ve been part of for nearly 200 years.
Durham County Council Chief Executive John Hewitt and Durham University Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen O'Brien seated at a table, signing the refreshed Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations


Supporting businesses and local growth

Our award-winning Durham Internships & Collaborative Enterprise (DICE) project in partnership with Business Durham provided an integrated package of business and enterprise support to improve business innovation, increase graduate retention, increase the number of scalable start-ups in the region, and facilitate collaborative partnerships. The four strands of support included:

  • SME Internships Programme provided valuable work experience opportunities for our students by placing them in local SMEs.
  • Durham City Incubator, which allows new businesses to access a range of detailed support as they start out.
  • Durham Venture Lab has boosted enterprise support to students and graduates giving them an in-depth experience of entrepreneurship and new business development. Over the past year, the Venture Lab has engaged with almost 1,000 students and created 34 start up businesses.
  • Orbit University Enterprise Zone at NetPark, one of the UK’s leading science and technology parks, provides flexible office space and tailored support and guidance for science and technology SMEs and university spin-outs.


Durham Internships and Collaborative Enterprise (DICE)

Find out more about the impact of the DICE Project and its transformative effect on businesses in County Durham. 

Commercialising our research

Northern Accelerator is an exciting collaboration between the North East’s universities, to support high quality spin-out businesses and create real-world impact from world-leading research.

Northern Accelerator has transformed the commercialisation of research in the North East, making a significant contribution to the region’s economy. To date 47 spin-out businesses have been created through the programme’s support model, with many now based in innovation clusters at Newcastle’s Helix and County Durham’s NETPark.

An external evaluation forecasts that Northern Accelerator will have added an additional £140m to the value of the North East economy by 2030, measured in GVA. That contribution to the region’s economy is well underway, with spin-outs from the partner universities raising over £100m investment in the last five years and currently employing over 650 people.

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Magnitude Biosciences

Watch our video to learn how Durham University spin-out Magnitude Biosciences is working on a project to screen for compounds to help with the prevention of degenerative diseases.

Find out more about Northern Accelerator

Graduate start-ups

Durham University has a mission to deliver an ambitious student and graduate enterprise service with a focus on purpose driven innovation. Our start-ups are pushing the boundaries of what is possible to make the world a better place.

Venture Lab

Inspiring the next generation of purpose driven innovators, the Hazen Venture Lab is a dedicated co-working space for our aspiring entrepreneurs. Students can access specialist advice and mentoring sessions, much of which is supplied by the University’s global alumni network. Students also have the opportunity to develop their skills through workshops, networking opportunities, and participate in start-up pitching events. 


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What our founders say

Hear from some of our founders who have accessed support from Venture Lab.

Student and graduate enterprise impact report

Public and community engagement

The knowledge shared by our researchers has informed significant exhibitions and public engagement events. For example:

  • Our extensive libraries and special collections are a treasure-trove of over 70,000 books published before 1850, manuscripts, maps and photographs. Meanwhile our museums, galleries and exhibitions include more than 100,000 objects – and growing!
  • We welcome visitors across the year to our public exhibitions, through our regular engagement with schools and from scholars and members of the public.
  • Our Institute for Computational Cosmology has inspired a number of installations at the renowned biennial light festival Lumiere, using the arts to showcase science in new ways.
  • The North East Raising Aspiration Partnership, which includes all five North East universities, won a national Widening Access Partnership of the Year Award. This important project supports care-experienced students to access university. Currently less than two per cent do so. We’re working to change that.


Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach (DUSVO) successfully delivers a wide range of volunteering opportunities. We are working with nearly 200 charities and community organisations in addition to offering services to North East schools and hundreds of individuals.

Key stats for 2021/22:

  • 1,800 registered volunteers
  • 10,000 volunteering hours were recorded by students
  • 200 partners, charities and community groups were supported
  • 25 student-led volunteering projects
  • 1,554 volunteer sessions

Find out more about Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach