Knowledge transfer from universities provides economic boost, HEFCE finds

19 Aug 16
The value of knowledge exchange between UK universities and their partners in business and the public sector was £4.2bn in 2014-15, a report has shown.

According to figures in the Higher Education – Business and Community interaction Survey (HE-BCI) published by Higher Education Funding Council for England, the value of knowledge exchange was up 6% from £3.9bn in 2013-14.

The term ‘knowledge exchange’ describes the interactions between universities and businesses, public services, charities and communities that create social and economic benefits. These include joint research and development projects, consultancy and training and new companies set up collaboratively. Higher education institutions’ income from these interactions is counted within this.

HEIs’ income from activity with large businesses, in cash terms, increased by 6.6% to £819m. Meanwhile, for small and medium enterprises this figure grew by 7.8% to £217m. Public and third sector spending helped HEIs grow their income by an average of 1.4% and the total now stands at £1.3bn for 2014-15.

There was a pronounced increase in income from the sale and licensing of formal intellectual property rights by HEIs. Across all sectors, this figure grew 18.5% compared with the previous year, and now stands at £155 million in 2014-15. Within the public and third sector, there was a dramatic increase of 49% to £13.1m in 2014-15 from £8.8m in the previous year.

Comparatively, the UK’s performance in this area is ‘world leading’, with the return on investment received from the commercialisation of research in the country topping that of the US and Japan, according to the review.

David Sweeney, HEFCE director for research, education and knowledge exchange, said the survey results reiterate that higher education institutions made a strong contribution to the UK economy and society.

He said: “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.”

Sweeney said that the cycle of knowledge exchange benefits all those involved and demonstrated the value of the government’s long-term commitment to knowledge exchange funding.

In May, the government announced it would be merging the UK’s seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, to form a new body, UK Research and Innovation.

Jo Johnson, the minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation, said this would strengthen the links between universities, discovery and driving growth in the economy. He said: “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.”

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