Universities collaborate with industry to succeed

The impact agenda stimulates collaboration: universities thrive and boost the UK economy

DNA Lab

In a recently published report Universities UK (UUK) revealed that the higher education sector contributes 2.8% to UK GDP. This is more than the basic pharmaceuticals, legal services and computer manufacturing sectors. Each year universities generate £73 billion in output and this has grown despite the recession: up 24% or £59 billion since the previous study five years ago.

“It is clear that universities are making an increasingly significant contribution to the UK economy, both in terms of contribution to GDP and creating jobs,” said Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, President of UUK.

Collaborate or die?

Industrial collaborations may have stimulated this success. Following the recent research excellence framework (REF2014) assessment – in which 20% of a universities final score hinges on the demonstration of the impact of research – academics are now much more aware of the mutual benefits that collaboration can bring.

Dr Malcolm Skingle is director of academic liaison at GlaxoSmithKline. Interviewed by Times Higher Education in March, Dr Skingle said that REF2014 has given academics an incentive to work with industry.

In the article, Dr Skingle argues that the days in which academics did not take notice of industry are changing. “They are realising that if they do not start working with industry they are missing out,” he says.

Industry has much to offer academia, from a novel way of thinking to new technologies. Funding bodies now encourage collaboration whilst the “impact agenda” has stimulated a much better dialogue with industry.

University to industry relationships

The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) followed UUK’s report with its own State of Relationships Report, which outlines the nature of collaboration between universities and businesses in a series of case studies.

When the report was published NCUB Chief Executive David Doherty commented on the broad range of business-to-university relationships. But he also noted that although universities interact with industry across a range of sectors, barriers do remain.

Doherty pointed to miscommunication. He said that small businesses lack an understanding of how universities work and universities struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of change in business. “Collaboration is hard,” Doherty said, “but the more youkeep at it the more it will work. How you foster it is key.”

According to NCUB, the UK comes out top in most international comparisons of university innovation and connectivity. But Doherty is looking for continuous improvement: “This world-class performance must not result in the UK being the best contract researcher for other countries’ economic growth. It must be turned into profit and jobs in the UK.”

Nevertheless, according to UUK, the higher education sector makes an important contribution to macroeconomic stability because it only responds mildly to changes in the economic climate. Universities are slow to grow during times of a booming economy, but they tend to maintain their income during recession.

Filed under: University issues | By Deborah on June 11, 2014 at 1:31 am

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