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The 2014-15 Higher Education – Business and Community Interaction Survey (HE-BCI) survey shows that collaborative research, access to specialist facilities and equipment and economic regeneration all increased by around 10 per cent. Total knowledge exchange investment [Note 1] across all activities from large businesses increased in cash terms by 6.6 per cent, from £769 million in the previous year to £819 million, while small and medium-sized enterprises increased their overall spending by 7.8 per cent, from £201 million to £217 million.
Companies created from intellectual property developed in UK universities showed improvements in survival rate, staffing and turnover. There were also increases in the total number of graduate start-ups and social enterprises.
UK performance is world leading. Comparisons demonstrate that the return on investment from commercialisation of research (sale of equity) is higher in the UK than in the USA or Japan and engagement with industry (proportion of research income) is at similar levels either side of the Atlantic.
David Sweeney, HEFCE Director for Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange, said:
‘This year’s HE-BCI survey results reiterate that higher education institutions make a continuing strong contribution to the UK economy and society. Businesses of all sizes are increasing the value they place on working with our universities. These interactions have impacts that benefit the UK beyond immediate innovation and productivity gains. They instil a more entrepreneurial culture in staff and students and generate new avenues for research. This process of engagement strengthens our learning and teaching, making UK graduate talent even more desirable. The cycle of knowledge exchange benefits all partners and demonstrates the value of the Government’s long-term commitment to knowledge exchange funding.’
Jo Johnson, Universities Minister said:
‘As this report shows, our world leading universities have a clear impact on discovery and driving growth in our economy. And by bringing Innovate UK, Research England and the Research Councils into the single research and innovation funding body we are creating – UK Research and Innovation – we will help strengthen these links further. Our reforms will help businesses identify potential research partners that can meet their commercial needs as well as improving researchers’ exposure to commercialisation expertise so they can achieve more impact.’
David Docherty, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Businesses, said:
‘Universities and companies working together is vital for sustaining prosperity after the EU referendum, and it is a powerful indicator of growing collaboration that the latest HEBCI survey shows university engagement with businesses crossing the £1bn mark for the first time. Knowledge exchange is vital and it is obviously working, and the National Centre will continue to work with the Higher Education funding and research councils and its members, to bring down barriers for all firms, particularly small and medium sized companies looking to innovate.’
1. Universities help organisations of all sizes and sorts to become more competitive, innovative and productive, through offering their wealth of knowledge and expertise. The term ‘knowledge exchange’ is shorthand for the multiple interactions between universities and businesses, public services, charities and communities to create social and economic benefit. These interactions include joint research and development projects, consultancy and training and setting up new companies.
Knowledge exchange is critical to a world-leading higher education system. HEFCE funding for knowledge exchange – through the Higher Education Innovation Fund – is distinct from that for teaching and research, although knowledge exchange itself builds on both.