Hesa data shows decline in university-SME partnerships

The latest figures show that, in general, university-business collaborations remain “resilient” despite the impact of the pandemic

The National Centre for Universities and Business has said the government must arrest declining collaborations between small and medium-sized enterprises and universities.

The warning came after the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) released annual HE Business and Community Interaction data.

The NCUB – which describes itself as a collective voice for the shared interests of universities and businesses – said most of the new 2020/21 data showed “that despite the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, collaboration between universities and business remained resilient”.

Between 2019/20 and 2020/21, SME engagement fell 2.5%, the second successive year of decline. Dr Joe Marshall, chief executive of NCUB, said: “In order to reverse this worrying trend and to help build back better, we are calling on the government to offer more support for SMEs to access universities.

“New funding streams should be introduced and clear and accessible routes to partner with universities should be developed. Now is the time for the government, businesses and universities to invest in, not away from, collaboration, research and innovation.”

Elsewhere, statistics showed that UK university income from interactions with business increased 1.6% compared to last year, to a £5.16 billion.

In the 12-month period, universities were granted 2,078 patents, a rise of 8.8%, and 18,396 licences, up 4.6%. UK universities now oversee a collective portfolio of more than 24,000 patents – and derived revenues of £284 million in 2020/21 from intellectual property.

Other major sources of income included £1.8 billion from collaborative research from public funding and £1.4 billion from contract research.

Universities registered 194 new spin-outs, up 11%, while graduates founded 4,528 spin-out and start-up firms, an increase of 16% in 12 months.

Read more: Northern Gritstone raises £215 million for university spinouts

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