Research and knowledge exchange

HEIF programme for Covid-19

Apply for funding towards an exchange of knowledge that supports society's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic – made available through the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF).

About the fund

We are making £250,000 available from the University’s annual Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) allocation to support work with non-academic partners to address their challenges and opportunities presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

We ran the programme last year (skip to background) and are now repeating it along similar lines.

The focus this year will be on working collaboratively with our non-academic stakeholders to support health, social and economic recovery from the pandemic and its wider impacts.

This year's initiative runs from 1 May to 31 July 2021.

Costs up to £25,000 (excluding full time staff buy-out costs) will be prioritised according to the following criteria:

  1. Impact – the project makes a demonstrable and positive difference to economic, social and/or health outcomes
  2. Partnership – key project partners are identified in advance and are likely to confirm they consider the project as a route to post COVID recovery and strengthened resilience
  3. Income generation – income generation opportunities are designed into the project outcomes
  4. Leverage – the project unlocks and/or builds on specific commitments and/or in-kind contributions from collaborators – but cannot be funded from any alternative source.
  5. Value for money – the project demonstrates best value and state aid principles and where appropriate, opens up income generation opportunities.

How to apply

To apply, fill in this application form [DOC 23KB] and email it to Sue Baxter – – by Friday 9 April 2021.

(Open application form in new tab)

Timescales for 2021

  • Deadline for submission of applications – 9 April
  • You'll get an informal steer on you project proposal within 48 hours
  • You will be notified of a decision on your application – 23 April
  • HEIF spending cut-off – 31 July (any unspent funds will not be available after this date).


The Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) is awarded annually to the University by Research England to support our knowledge exchange activity.

As part of its wide-ranging response, the University of Sussex last year ran a successful HEIF-funded programme to support work with non-academic partners to address their challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID pandemic.

Twenty projects were funded (skip to project list), aimed at improving health outcomes; mitigating the effects of the lockdown on families and schooling and to advise on aspects of the economy.

Find out more about the aims of the HEIF on the Research England website.

Research England policy and priorities for knowledge exchange

Research England’s guidance on HEIF Policies and Priorities (RE-P-2020-03) states that:

“The Higher Education and Research Act 2017, section 93 (4) defines knowledge exchange as:

“ (4) For the purposes of this Part, “knowledge exchange”, in relation to science, technology, humanities or new ideas, means a process or other activity by which knowledge is exchanged where—
(a) the knowledge is in, or in connection with, science, technology, humanities or new ideas (as the case may be), and
(b) the exchange contributes, or is likely to contribute, (whether directly or indirectly) to an economic or social benefit in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.”

At a practical level, this means that an activity must involve an external partner and/or be focussed on entrepreneurship and/or starting up a new company.”

“The Government is committed to a long-term vision for R&D as described in the R&D roadmap, which includes highlighting the importance of knowledge exchange, HEIF, KEF and the KE Concordat.

HEIF should support delivery of the key foundations of the Industrial Strategy, around “Ideas”, “People” and their role in supporting “Place”. It should support all important aspects to the contribution of universities to COVID-19 crisis and recovery, such as place and civic contributions. It can play a part in addressing the Government’s levelling up agenda. It can also support the vital role of students in delivering knowledge exchange in pursuit of these priorities, whilst also recognising that students themselves may benefit through, for example, enhanced employability prospects.

  • “Examples of activities that are not eligible to be funded by HEIF because they do not meet the knowledge exchange definition above or cannot be supported by recurrent funding include:
  • Research that does not involve an external partner, for example collaborative research with another higher education provider only.
  • Teaching that does not involve an external partner, for example cross disciplinary curriculum development.
  • Capital expenditure such as building construction or refurbishment.
  • Research administration such as the preparation of REF impact statements (although KE activities to achieve the impact would be eligible).
  • Outreach programmes that are primarily aimed at student recruitment or widening participation.”

More Research England information.

How do universities access HEIF?

The national HEIF budget of £210m is allocated annually to universities on the basis of their relative income from knowledge exchange activities reported to the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey and other data, underpinned by institutional strategies for knowledge exchange.

Performance Assessment of HEIF: the Knowledge Exchange Framework

From late 2020, universities in receipt of HEIF will be benchmarked against their comparators on the basis of the criteria listed below and in future years, universities’ HEIF allocations will be pegged to their relative performance in each of these areas:

  1. Collaborative research income
  2. Co-authorship with non-academic partners
  3. Innovate UK income
  4. Contract research income – businesses & public / third sector
  5. Consultancy income – business & public / third sector
  6. CPD income
  7. CPD Learner days delivered
  8. New graduate start ups
  9. Income from local growth programmes
  10. Turnover per spin out
  11. External investment per spin-out
  12. Licensing and other IP related income.

HEIF provides a strong return on investment, with £9.30 generated for every £1 of funding, at national level.

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Past projects

Twenty projects were funded totalling c £340,000 from the 2019/20 HEIF budget. Between them they directly generated £270,000 from external sources, even though income generation was not a key selection criterion for the programme. Prospects look hopeful for at least a further £0.5m-£1m in direct income generation as partnerships mature during 2021. A further £323,000 in external funding was leveraged by the programme (i.e. pre-committed funds which were drawn upon or repurposed to support the HEIF investment). Three projects also secured a further £35,000 from Sussex’s allocation from Research England from Strategic Priorities Funding (Jan 2021).


A wide range of external collaborations was forged and long term partnerships established with organisations ranging from small companies to large public authorities, central Government and community groups. Most of these are continuing to develop into longer term relationships involving R&D collaboration, public engagement and student experience. Most projects formed the basis of at least one publication and some were proposed as REF impact case studies.

The 2020 project list
Sussex Faceshield Initiative Harri Koivisto
  • Novel, superior quality PVC face-shield designed and BSI-certified for use by healthcare workers and first responders. Several thousand distributed. Prototype developed with Royal Sussex County Hospital.
  • Other outcomes: Possible KTP / collaborative research project with local manufacturer of autoclave disinfection; strong partnership formed with hospital and relevant businesses; inter-disciplinary publication in development (medical & mechanical engineering); PPE manufacturing expertise developed; students actively involved as volunteers.
NHS / Public Health COVID Dashboard: ‘Halogen’ Anotida Madzvamuse
  • A predictive modelling software toolkit designed for NHS / BHCC partners to produce clear, simple ‘dashboard’ of COVID-related information in ‘real time’ for decision makers ( Driven by mathematical modelling of epidemiological nature coupled with novel statistical inference theory for forecasting.
  • Income generated: £75k from BHCC & NHS for further R&D; £58k from NHS for training public health analysts; additional small scale consultancies
  • Other outcomes: scalable model developed for widespread roll-out; 3 articles co-authored with non-academic partners. Follow-on funding of £12k secured from internal Strategic Priorities Fund in 2021.
COVID Moonshot Initiative John Spencer
Blood sample collection Florian Kern
  • A local COVID-positive blood donor cohort established as a resource for inter-disciplinary research & knowledge exchange projects. Several small research projects already completed.
  • Funds leveraged: £46,400 in ‘in-kind’ contribution from local companies Novo Nordisk and One Research.
Multi-use FFP mask development Romeo Glovnea and Saul Rajak
  • New lab established at UoS for masks and mask materials testing in order to create NHS-grade re-usable masks. Expertise developed on mask efficacy, disinfection techniques, equipment and new filtration materials.
  • Industrial collaborations initiated with IoT Stars and Filter Integrity Ltd for a variety of applications incl. surface disinfection of mobile phones.
Support for social care workers Jackie Cassell
  • Challenges facing a range of social care workers requiring COVID protection analysed and presented to SAGE working group on social care.
  • Improved communication material & guidelines for frontline social care workers in development.
  • Preliminary model for COVID transmission in social care settings developed with MPS.
  • External follow-on funding secured in collaboration led by U. Manchester.
  • Funds leveraged: £160,000 NIHR ARC KSS + £15,000 repurposed NIHR Clinical Research Collaboration KSS.
Wearable biosensor for early COVID patient deterioration Elizabeth Rendon-Morales
  • A compact wearable, bluetooth biosensor prototype for detecting temperature, heart and respiration rates of COVID-19 patients designed, developed and tested in partnership with BSUH, Glasgow Electronic & Nanoscale Engineering Centre and Edinburgh Institute for Bioengineering. This links UoS with state-of-the-art facilities for nanofabrication of the wearable pad.
  • Other outcomes: Further collaboration with same partners to develop ultrathin “skin-like” sensors in progress. Publication of article at the 27th IEEE International Conference on Electronics Circuits and Systems (flagship industry conference).
Post-viral fatigue in COVID patients Istvan Kiss and Elizabeth Ford
  • Long COVID symptoms data tracked and analysed. Risk factors leading to ‘Long COVID’ identified in partnership with local clinicians. Guidance prepared to strengthen research local research using the BSMS COVID Blood Sample Collection (see project 4 above). Publication under preparation.
  • Network of researchers and clinicians on Long COVID established - involving BSUH, SCFT (the community trust and mental health trust), GPs and primary care workers.
COVID education for BAME communities Priya Paudyal
  • Health education resources tailored to the needs of BAME groups co-produced, disseminated and evaluated in partnership with BAME community representatives. Webinar broadcast on best practice to engage elderly BAME communities, using co-production strategies.
Impact on children and home-schooling
"Kitbags” for communicating with vulnerable children Gillian Ruch
  • 400 ‘kitbags’ for promoting emotional literacy with vulnerable children and families distributed to social workers, foster/kinship carers and special needs teachers in Rotherham District Council & BHCC. Scale of distribution large enough to effect culture change and improved emotional awareness / literacy amongst social workers.
  • External follow-on funding secured: £101k from the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care to provide a further 800 Kitbags across two more local authorities; £3,600 from Rotherham Council to purchase an additional 60 kitbags to equip all their relevant staff with this resource; £3,000 from BHCC for further workshops.
COVID Impact on schooling & educational attainment Iftikar Hussain
  • 200 parents across 5 B&H secondary schools (Years 10 & 11) surveyed and the results correlated with national data in order to identify and embed best practice in school-parent communication and home-schooling to raise children’s aspirations and achievement.
Nature connection for youth resilience Chi Ezieful
  • Novel ‘eco-therapy’ programme developed to support adolescent mental health, well-being and emotional resilience. Co-developed in partnership with Vitality Works, the Sacred Earth Community Benefit Society and Wealden District Council.
  • Continuing interest in rolling-out the model from Wealden District Council.
Home schooling and educational inequalitie Matthew Easterbrook
  • 5000 educational stakeholders surveyed and cross-referenced with Government data on schools to produce a report on inequalities in home learning experience among pupils with a range characteristics and family backgrounds. Variety of materials produced and disseminated to promote best practice.
  • Funds leveraged: €5000 from European Association of Social Psychology.
Impact on parents, children & education Kathryn Lester
  • Interviews and quantitative data analysis completed on parents of primary school children in B&H and Sussex, focussing on mental health and priorities for return to school.
  • Advisory ‘infographic’ disseminated to all schools in Sussex and via local education and family services. Networks with schools and school governors developed across Sussex and B&H for continued applied research projects. Publication prepared.
Economic and social
COVID virtual internships Student Experience
  • 26 students placed for (mostly) 8 weeks with local SMEs, local authorities and community groups to help them address their COVID challenges.
  • 46% offered contract extensions (high in relation to most internship schemes). 100% of interns and 96% of employers rated the scheme “excellent”.
  • Funds leveraged: £19,700 from Santander.
Digital Connections & Inclusion in B&H Jackie O'Reilly
  • 15 tablets distributed to vulnerable people, supported by Digital Brighton & Hove and HealthWatch Brighton, to enable recipients to access improved access jobs and services on-line. Work nearing completion to co-produce with community organisations recommendations for improved policy and practice in public services and the voluntary sector. The project forms an extension of the ESRC-funded Digit Centre.
Adjusting supply chains Michael Gasiorek
  • Multi-industry study led by the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) and the British Chamber of Commerce on COVID impact on supply chains of UK based firms. Report shared with British Chamber of Commerce members and partners.
Sanitising surfaces for the catering & leisure industries Barnaby Greenland
  • New collaboration with local SME HungryTech (‘grab and go’ food service) formed, working towards design of a COVID-killing surface for food storage. Lab equipment upgraded to enable a bid to Innovate UK for £0.75m in 2021 and to establish commercially available testing facilities.
  • Leveraged funds: £77k INTERREG grant by providing SME partnership.
Skills Commission Inquiry Chidiebere Ogbonnaya
  • 3 evidence sessions led by the Skills Commission and chaired by Nicola Richards MP and Lord Jim Knight (Former Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform) organised. Understanding Society COVID survey analysed and cross-referenced to identify recommendations for improved careers guidance to support young people post COVID. Policy Connect disseminated findings to Parliamentarians, businesses and civil society groups.
  • Follow-on funding of £11k secured from internal Strategic Priorities Fund in 2021.
Legal frameworks for access to growing space Bonnie Holligan
  • Range and variety of growing spaces in B&H mapped and the legal and policy structures underpinning them analysed in order to identify gaps in provision and future priorities. Strong partnerships developed with BHCC and local community group Sustain.
  • Follow-on funding of £12k secured from internal Strategic Priorities Fund in 2021.

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