A Research England report on knowledge exchange has found that the financial value of sector research continues to grow despite the pandemic, albeit slower than in previous years.
But the report highlighted that just a handful of research-intensive universities continue to dominate the rankings of universities based on their intellectual property (IP) revenue and number of spin-out businesses.
Research England analysed the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) Higher Education Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) 2019/20 survey. The results were released in June this year.
Total UK university IP revenue increased last year to a new high, almost double the value generated five years ago. Total income from knowledge exchange increased by £152m (3.1%) compared to the previous year – but growth in those 12 months was more than half the figures the preceding two years (7.6% and 6.9%). Research England concluded this dip was “encouraging in light of possible effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
IP revenues grew 1.6% compared to 2018/19, a bumper year for incomes, which were 45% higher than 2017/18. The slower growth this year is explained by fewer sales of shares in spin-outs. Because of the dominance of just a handful of universities in this area, decreases at Cambridge and Oxford were significant enough to reduce the entire sectoral average. Significant increases in sales by Imperial College, University of Surrey and UCL – of 1,100%, 4,800% and 103%, respectively – helped offset the Oxbridge figures.
The Research England report highlighted the unequal picture of research income across the country – just six research institutions, Oxford, Cancer Research, Sheffield, UCL, Imperial and Cambridge, represented 80% of the entire sectoral income.
The total number of patents granted across the sector increased by 15% – and the cumulative patent portfolio increased by 9.1%, the largest year-on-year increase observed in the last five academic years. The report highlights that six providers, again, dominated this field. Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, King’s College, Imperial and UCL represented 67% of patents granted in 2019/20, up from 58% in 2018/19. But Research England noted, optimistically, that the proportion of providers with zero patents granted decreased slightly from 62% to 59% and the percentage of providers that had 6-15 patents granted increased from 5% to 10%.
The report highlighted that in Wales and Northern Ireland, Cardiff University and Queen’s University Belfast account for nearly all IP revenue and spin-outs in their respective nations. A table offering an approximate comparison of the US and UK HE sector’s IP performance found that the UK sector is far less equal. “In 2019/20, 74% of the UK’s IP income was to six institutions whereas the six largest institutions in the US contributed 39% of the sector’s total IP income,” the report said.