NCUB answers call for Scottish innovation ideas

Support for early-stage research ‘crucial’ says NCUB’s response to Scottish government’s call for help in developing a 10-year innovation strategy

Consultation has closed on the Scottish government’s call for input on developing a 10-year innovation strategy.

The plan, it says, is “to utilise innovation to grow our economy, create jobs and deliver priority outcomes”.

Among the organisations and individuals offering suggestions for the strategy is the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), the London-based not-for-profit supporting collaboration between higher education and commerce in the UK.

The newly-published NCUB response claims that there are several innovation-rich sectors and sub-sectors in Scotland, including many – the creative and digital sector, oil and gas, life sciences, and financial services – comprehensively evaluated in a 2016 report.

While further analysis would be required to better understand areas of comparative advantage, NCUB also sees potential in fields including AI, bioinformatics and genomics, engineering biology, electronics, photonics and quantum.

“Support for early-stage research is crucial to the health of the Scottish research and innovation system, and valued by businesses as well as universities,” says the NCUB submission, before calling for sustainable investment in fundamental research and better funding to help translate potential into commercial reality.

When it comes to forging links between higher education and business, NCUB again cites its 2016 report, specifically the fact that “personal relationships are at the heart of all successful interactions”.

More recent NCUB research suggests something of a lopsided relationship between academia and commerce.

Read more: Early-career researcher network hub opens in Scotland

“Within the university sector, it is individual academics and individual professional staff that help start and sustain these relationships, indicating that personal contacts are important mechanisms for university-company interactions.” At the same time, it notes, “few companies appear to devote significant staff time and resource to working with universities”.

If improving business’ incentives to work with universities is one clear path to enhanced innovation, another lies in optimising and extending university-centred ecosystems, such as the Arrol Gibb Innovation Campus near Edinburgh.

Among the key obstacles to overcome in expanding such initiatives are attracting and retaining talent, and funding mechanisms for commercialisation – especially for technology-based start-ups – and attracting early-stage investment.

“It is important to note that, for businesses, proximity is only one factor when determining which universities to partner with, and that its importance varies depending on the type of interaction,” warns NCUB’s submission.

“UK businesses interact with universities on a global scale. Overseas universities were involved in around one-third of licensing interactions and over one-fifth of people-based and problem-solving interactions.”

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