UK HE key to economic strength

UK universities need to ‘strain every sinew’ to build on world-class research, finds new report published by the CBI and Middlesex University

If the UK is to make its way in a world of intense global competition, growing businesses and universities must make the most of its world-class research base to keep the UK at the forefront of innovation and help deliver future growth. That’s according to a new report published by the CBI and Middlesex University. 

In recent years the UK’s diverse universities have made huge strides in supporting business innovation and the research that underpins it – playing its part in driving the economic recovery. Many firms have already developed partnerships with universities, with half of CBI members planning to strengthen their ties in the future. While many large firms may already have established relationships, there is much for smaller, ambitious firms to gain by taking their first steps to developing a tie-in with a university.

The challenge is to assist mid-sized businesses in understanding exactly how to get the best from partnering with universities, to encourage more to take part in such schemes. From collaborating on business-relevant research to staff work exchanges between universities and companies, firms of all sizes can use these links to expand their horizons and drive innovation.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills policy, said:“The UK’s universities are a leading light with world-beating research skills and facilities that punch above their weight. In an ever more competitive global economy, we must strain every sinew to get the most out of this competitive advantage.

“While many larger companies already recognise the value of such tie-ups, it is vital to make our growing, ambitious firms more aware of the opportunities on offer. This could ultimately help them to expand and boost jobs, and even create new industries through product innovation.

“Businesses and universities with the foresight to share their skills and resources can work together and win together. Firms can reduce research and development costs and develop staff skills while universities can generate new ideas to train students and get a greater awareness of the needs of the marketplace.”

With less than 1% of the global population and only 3.2% of world research & development funding, the UK nonetheless accounts for 6.4% of all articles in the world’s academic journals with 15.9% of the most highly-cited articles. The UK clearly has an enviable reputation for its research base but all parties – business, universities, Government – need to do more to build on this competitive advantage. 

The report highlights the benefits for both parties:

For a business

  • Reducing costs and risk – collaboration can provide a flexible and cost-effective extension of research and development, and can help spread risk.
  • Access to new ideas – develop an early understanding of what is required to deliver new technology to the market, learn about new areas of research, benchmark a firm’s own in-house research.
  • Developing research skills – identifying possible new recruits and upskilling existing staff, boosting business reputation and creating academic networks.

For a university

  • Increasing a university’s awareness of a market and commercial opportunities.
  • Can lead to new ideas for teaching, training and curriculums.
  • Boosting the employability skills of students and researchers. 

Professor Michael Driscoll, Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, said: “We have seen first-hand at Middlesex University the mutual advantages of working closely with businesses.  Our partnerships with businesses from various sectors, including Halifax and Wal-Mart’s Asda, continue to grow and have seen staff becoming reskilled, creating home grown talent, and opening more doors for future company leaders.  

“Universities play a huge part in our country’s research, with ground-breaking discoveries being uncovered every day.  From developing bespoke programmes to providing expertise and support, universities have the knowledge and capabilities to nurture business confidence and address industry needs.”  

There are many ways to build successful partnerships to support research and innovation. This can be via Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, innovation vouchers, student assignments, contract research, joint research and sponsored doctorates, and secondments of academic staff to industry.

For full details of these methods and tips for businesses and universities to get started, download the guide here.

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