More organisations should see universities as their principal source of innovation to increase economic prosperity in their local region, according to Teesside University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise and Business Engagement).
Professor Jane Turner outlined the role of Higher Education in supporting business at the Inside Government conference on ‘Delivering Skills and Economic Growth in the North East’ earlier this week (Wednesday 5th October).
Whilst the importance of university-business collaboration has been highlighted in a series of government-commissioned reviews, Professor Turner said that only 5% of SMEs and 2% of larger firms turn to universities for innovation.
“Traditionally universities are predominantly perceived as educators, businesses perceive that it is difficult to identify academic partners, and academia perceives that engaging with industry is not a core activity,” Professor Turner explained.
“However, that has changed and is continuing to change. At Teesside University business engagement is a strategic imperative in our 2020 vision. We are active partners with businesses across a range of sectors, members of LEP boards and committees, leaders of major innovation initiatives, embedding R&D and innovation via knowledge transfer, and driving graduate enterprise and commercialisation.
“One example of this work is our DigitalCity innovation, where we are creating a digital business supercluster on the back of our digital strengths. We have supported over 650 core digital businesses and over 100 in the SME world. We also have an exciting blueprint for the future which we will be announcing later this year.”
Professor Turner highlighted three key action areas for universities to fully grasp the business engagement agenda: “Firstly, we need to widen our traditional mandate and operate as ‘anchor institutions’ –providing leadership, continuity and connectivity. Secondly, we need to be strategically integrated into regional growth agendas, to operate as active partners with government and business, and to be seen as natural partners in delivering growth and innovation funding.
"As part of this, Government and business should consult universities as key partners when developing industrial strategy or long-term sectoral strategies. Innovation should be a core component of policies aimed at promoting productivity and competitiveness. Finally, we need to ensure effective brokerage, particularly for SMEs, and continued support for activities that help to seed collaboration.”
Over one year alone Teesside University spent £122 million, including £69.9 million within the Tees Valley and £14.5 million elsewhere in the North East. Professor Turner concluded: “Universities have a significant impact on the economy and surrounding community through both direct and indirect expenditures and through its role in the development of graduate talent, workforce development, research and innovation.
"Going forward we need to better articulate the economic and social value of universities to business, the local community, policy makers, and key government agencies.”