Assessing the state of the university-business relationship

Realising the ambitions of the Government’s Industrial Strategy will require ever more interaction, more collaboration, and more partnerships between universities and business.

Todaythe National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) launches our fifth “State of the Relationship Report” – our annual assessment of the health of the partnership between universities and business.

Each year, we delight in hearing and bringing to life examples of collaborations – often new, increasingly different, and always inspiring. As always, our members and funders have responded with a range of exciting, strategic, focused, and transformational projects and collaborations.

From London South Bank University working with London Transport to use waste heat from the underground network to heat homes in Islington – to Aon’s work with the University of Cambridge on better protecting communities from climate risks.

At the University of South Wales collaboration with health services is seeing the development of games to check children’s vision; and in Portsmouth, a partnership with the Army has created a new degree apprenticeship programme for future armed force leaders.

Collaborations are not just the preserve of a small number of institutions or specific departments or academics. The examples showcased in this year’s report speak to a great diversity in the types of collaborations taking place across the UK.

Monitoring progress

This is evidenced in the Collaboration Progress Monitor, a unique tool tracking collaboration trends and published alongside the report, and which highlights how the number of interactions between universities and businesses has increased since we reported on similar figures last year. The monitor draws data from the 2015/16 academic year and will be the last using data before the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Subsequent iterations will provide evidence of the practical and perceptual impacts of Brexit.

What we can discern is how, across both large and small businesses, the number of interactions with universities is increasing. But – and this is one to watch in future years – the financial value derived from these interactions has contracted slightly,though we should note that the inclusion of licensing income enhances this impact.

We continue to see an increase in universities’ income from licences and an increase in the number of licences and patents granted. But on the skills and employability front, we observe a steady state in graduate and postgraduate employment.

Despite this evidence from the 2015-16 academic year, the collection of collaboration case studies published in the 2018 report showcase an emphasis on and awareness of skills and employability, both in higher education and lifelong learning. They demonstrate a growing trend to consider both regional and national need ahead of the establishment of new programmes and qualifications.

People and environment

Other themes highlighted in the report include current political areas of interest around the wellbeing of both people and their environment, be it physical, financial or rooted in communities. Looking to the future, our funders have provided in-depth thought pieces, from Innovate UK looking at the role of patient capital, to OfS’ understanding of the skills challenges ahead, to Research England examining the future landscape and its relationship with place-based innovation.

It is five years since we launched the first of our “State of the Relationship reports”. Much has changed and is changing in the ecosystem. New organisations have formed, new spotlights have been put on research and development, (with the Government’s commitment to increase public and private expenditure on R&D to 2.4% of GDP target emblematic of this); and new levies have brought employee recruitment and development activities into sharper focus. Collaborations and partnerships are becoming deeper and better embedded into the working practices of business and university actors across the ecosystem.

We believe our members and funders continue to rise to the challenges set and the opportunities they afford to collaborate in new and different ways. The “State of the Relationship” is a fantastic spotlight on the inventiveness, resourcefulness and collaborative spirit we see from our members as they explore the art of the possible in these changing times.

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