Diversifying income streams

Bridging the gap between academia and industry through strategic partnerships, by Dr Stephanie Maloney

In a challenging funding landscape of reduced budgets, increased competition and with REF dominating current policy initiatives we have seen particular emphasis on inter-disciplinarity, impact and dissemination of research. Diversification of our income streams is paramount and collaboration is key to unlock new funding streams at a regional, national and international level.

Universities are exploring how we engage with employers/beneficiaries of our research in working with industry not only as a funding source, but a route for employability of our graduates. The University of Lincoln’s interdisciplinary approach to collaborative research in responding to industry needs was cited in Sir Andrew Witty’s final review of Universities and Growth (2013). Recognised internationally for partnership with employers and students, we have created a whole University campus as the innovation park of the future with industry and academia diffuse throughout.

As an innovative institution we have a track record of partnership working through our National Centre for Food Manufacturing, a state-of-the-art industry sponsored training facility. Securing £7m HEFCE Catalyst funding to create new schools of Chemistry and Maths repositions our STEM provision and Lincoln Science and Innovation Park with Lincolnshire Co-op is an innovative environment for research, teaching, learning and employer engagement.

Embedding academic and graduate expertise through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), contract research and consultancy, we develop our work-based learning for industry and the armed forces; increasing workforce skills and saving for UK taxpayers. Building on our business incubation centre, Sparkhouse, in nurturing and developing young businesses and supporting student entrepreneurship, securing 1M Regional Growth funding in partnership with Lincolnshire Echo and Lincolnshire Co-op to support businesses in Lincolnshire will further create new jobs and grow our local economy. In partnership with our Local Enterprise Partnership we develop new ways to engage through joint design and implementation of provision, shared facilities, joint ventures and flexible approaches to delivery and accreditation.

Through a £37.5m collaboration, we co-created the first new school of Engineering in the UK for more than 20 years and retained the city’s largest private sector employer, Siemens. Through shared facilities and co-developed curriculum, we have created an innovative hub of higher learning in engineering in long-term partnership with a leading global employer. As one of five UK institutions with Siemens principal partner status, Siemens locating its customers and staff training school in the purpose-built premises has enabled product training and development whilst operating alongside the academic department, facilitating employer engagement and knowledge exchange between HE and industry.

The University of Lincoln is a driver of economic growth in Lincolnshire, worth more than £250m to the local economy (doubling local economic growth rates) and has created 5,000 new jobs. However, the introduction of the higher student fees means value for money is at the forefront of students’ minds and graduate employability is paramount in a tough jobs market. Coupled with this, research income is harder to secure in times of austerity with greater research competition and the REF dominating current policy initiatives.

Collaboration is key – universities need to establish and sustain strategic partnerships with other HEIs/businesses locally, nationally, internationally to raise their profile and increase visibility, leveraging collaborative funding to maximise the impact of high-class research, improving graduate employability and creating secondment opportunities for early career researchers. Taking on board recommendations of the Wilson Review (2013), as universities we must be accessible to local, national and international businesses, particularly SMEs seeking to innovate. Universities should consider the range of ways they can engage industrial partners and explore how they deploy these as a holistic package driving wide and deep strategic partnerships with long-term sustainability and increased overall total value and impact.

Dr Stephanie Maloney, Head of Research and Andrew Stevenson, Director of Research & Enterprise at the University of Lincoln.

Visit www.arma.ac.uk for more information.

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