Collaborations between business and UK universities were on a strikingly upward trajectory before Covid-19 hit.
That is the key finding from the National Centre for Universities and Business’ (NCUB) annual tracking of trends, the Collaboration Progress Monitor, part of the seventh annual State of the Relationship (SotR) report published on Monday (December 14).
There were almost 113,000 interactions between universities and businesses in 2017/18, an annual rise of 10.2%. In the same period, UK business investment in university research and development (R&D) totalled £389m, a climb of 8.7% in real terms.
As optimistic as these figures appear, they do, of course, relate to a pre-pandemic world.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the ability of the UK’s system of innovation to invest in R&D and innovation,’ says the SotR.
While more than 40% of UK universities have seen a decline in innovation-related activity, according to the report, the picture is far from even.
Thus, while the creative industries and sectors such as aerospace and automotive manufacturing have experienced steep decline in R&D, others – including activities associated with the pharmaceutical industry and health work – have been much less affected.
University-business collaboration needs to be valued “now more than ever”, according to NCUB chief executive, Dr Joe Marshall.
“Undoubtedly, working together helped universities and businesses to build the resilience to help carry them through the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.
“Although we have seen a rise in collaborations between universities and businesses for many years, the future looks challenging for collaboration as organisations respond to unprecedented change and uncertainty.
“Now is not the time for complacency. These vibrant and productive partnerships, that create lifesaving, innovative products and processes and develop our skilled graduates, are the lifeblood of the UK economy.”