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The commission has focused on the critical role of universities in city-scale and wider economic development. Graduates are vitally needed to fill the projected increase of 2.3 million higher-level jobs the commission anticipates will flow out of a knowledge-based economy. HEFCE welcomes the commission’s recognition of the importance of national funding for excellence in teaching and research, but also of the devolved skills budgets, European structural and investment funds and other funding flexibilities available for cities to secure graduate enterprise talent in conjunction with universities. The report recognises the importance of HEFCE’s recent call under the Catalyst Fund for projects to provide vital evidence on how universities can act more effectively as city and local anchors, and to highlight innovations in providing technical education that will be vital to thriving cities (Note 3).

The report draws attention to international rankings of innovation performance which put the UK in second place globally for the quality of our scientific institutions, and fourth for our strengths in university-industry links (Note 4). The report confirms the importance of universities in developing high-tech clusters, and of university technology transfer offices in forging close links with local venture capital and entrepreneur communities.

The report highlights the conclusions of the Witty Review of Universities and Growth (Note 5), stressing the essential contribution of HEFCE funding – including the UK Research Partnerships Investment Fund, the Higher Education Innovation Fund and the Catalyst Fund – to supporting the economic growth role of universities. It also highlights some important development areas that HEFCE and universities are already addressing:

  • The role of entrepreneurial universities in stimulating innovation eco-systems. A recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Note 6) summarising the views of worldwide innovation experts puts three UK universities – Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London – amongst the top ten most entrepreneurial universities in the world.
  • Collaboration between universities and with external partners such as businesses and civic and local partners. HEFCE has worked with a great range of universities to support their innovative collaborations. Examples include:
    • HEFCE Catalyst and Innovate UK funding for the N8 research-intensive universities in the north of England to support an Industry Innovation Forum which will bring together researchers, industry and other partners.
    • HEFCE Catalyst funding for King’s College London, in partnership with Imperial College London, University College London and Oxford and Cambridge universities, to work with MedCity to capitalise on London as a global life sciences cluster (Note 7).
  • Recognition that many universities are now ahead of Government proposals to increase activity on student enterprise (Note 8), supporting 3,502 additional start-up companies set up by students and graduates in 2012-13 (Note 9).

David Sweeney, HEFCE Director Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange, said:

It is particularly valuable when those external to universities, such as the City Growth Commission, confirm that we are on the right track in supporting the development of universities as economic and societal anchors. I am of course also pleased that this report praises so many HEFCE initiatives. I hope that the evidence from the projects we support through our Catalyst Fund can help universities to play a more effective role, cities to see the opportunities to work more closely with higher education – and policy-makers to see the wonderful potential of these close university-city partnerships.

Notes

  1. The final report of the City Growth Commission is available on the City Growth Commission web-site.
  2. ‘UniverCities: the Knowledge to Power UK Metros’, October 2014
  3. Catalyst Fund: Calls for expressions of interest in three areas’ (HEFCE 2014/21).
  4. World Economic Forum: the Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14
  5. Encouraging a British invention revolution: Sir Andrew Witty’s review of universities and growth’, UK Government October 2013
  6. ‘Creating university-based entrepreneurial eco-systems’, MIT Skoltech June 2014, is available on the rhgraham web-site.
  7. Catalyst Fund project details are available.
  8. 'Enterprise for All: the relevance of enterprise in education’, June 2014 
  9. Higher Education – Business and Community Interaction Survey 2012-13’ (HEFCE 2014/10).