Business-University Collaboration - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  The Catapult network has made a promising start, with Catapults undertaking a range of activities in a range of fields. To capitalise on this, it is important that best practice is shared across the Catapult community so that existing work can be embedded more consistently across the network, as recommended by the Hauser review. (Paragraph 11)

2.  We recommend that the Government commit to acting on the recommendations of the Hauser review, and to securing cross-party agreement for this action. As part of that commitment, we recommend that the Government conduct a light touch review that identifies effective examples of collaboration between universities and industry throughout the Catapult network, and ensures that this information is shared amongst interested parties to encourage and support further interaction. This review should be driven by the National Centre for Universities and Business and Innovate UK, building on the work of the Hauser Review. (Paragraph 12)

Public sector procurement and the SBRI

3.  In its evaluation of the Small Business Research Initiative, the Government should explain why it failed to meet the £100 million target for contracts awarded through the scheme in 2013-14. It should also use this review to assess the assumptions made in setting targets for the scheme, in order to confirm that there is reasonable basis for believing the £200 million target for 2014-15 can be met. If the evaluation demonstrates that the Small Business Research Initiative is not on track to meet its £200 million target, the Government should make clear the corrective steps it will take to address the underperformance. The results of this evaluation should be made public. (Paragraph 16)

Innovate UK's funding

4.  We recommend that Innovate UK routinely publish the total number of applications, proportion of applications that merit funding, and proportion of applications that receive funding as part of its annual report. We further recommend that Research Councils UK publish comparable data on applications for, and successful securing of funding for, their initiatives that are designed to support and promote business-university collaboration. (Paragraph 21)

5.  The Secretary of State has set out the case for doubling Innovate UK's budget. The Autumn Statement and planned Science and Innovation Strategy are opportunities for the Government to give a statement of intent about increasing funding for Innovate UK over the course of the next Spending Review. Investing in innovation brings about demonstrable economic returns. We therefore expect the Minister to be arguing strongly for increasing Innovate UK's funding, in addition to protecting the financial support for science and innovation more broadly, in forthcoming Spending Review negotiations. Any increase in funding for Innovate UK should not be secured by diverting funding away from, or diminishing the remainder of, the science budget. (Paragraph 22)

Gateway to Research

6.  The Gateway to Research was intended to help SMEs access information about the research base. We are aware that this portal is still being developed. However, we are concerned about the lack of a capability to monitor who is using the Gateway, and therefore whether it is reaching its desired audience. This capability should be developed as a matter of priority, with the resulting data being used to inform the Gateway's future development. (Paragraph 27)

7.  We recommend that, in its response to this report, RCUK provides details of the monitoring and evaluation of Gateway to Research users that will be undertaken, a timetable for data collection and an explanation as to how this data will inform future iterations of the Gateway. (Paragraph 27)

Collaborative online platform

8.  It is of paramount importance that research capability and funding opportunities to support collaboration are easily accessible, clear and navigable through a single interface. The new NCUB online platform should be developed to complement, rather than complicate, the existing information systems. However, it is unclear what processes or structures, if any, are in place to build on the capability of the Gateway to Research as part of this new platform. (Paragraph 31)

9.  As much of this work is being conducted by the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), we recommend that the NCUB set out its plans for the development of the online collaborative platform. This should include an assessment of existing platforms and their respective capabilities, so that NCUB can demonstrate it is building on, rather than duplicating or complicating, existing capabilities. We also recommend that the NCUB includes in these plans a clear statement of objectives, planned functions and information on how it will engage with interested parties in the platform's development, alongside an estimated timetable for launch. The ability to monitor or classify users by type should be built into the platform's capability from an early stage. (Paragraph 32)

Single point of contact

10.  The single point of contact can be a useful point at which universities can gauge demand from industry for interaction and capacity to meet that demand. This single point of entry should be designed to enhance the other ways in which universities are encouraging interaction with industry. (Paragraph 35)

11.  Every university should have a single point of contact for businesses that are seeking to collaborate. The forthcoming NCUB online portal should clearly signpost contact information for each university, so that businesses looking to collaborate can easily find someone to talk to as a first point of call. (Paragraph 36)

Higher Education Innovation funding (HEIF)

12.  There is widespread support for increasing HEIF to £250 million per annum. HEFCE is currently assessing the evidence base for increasing HEIF. (Paragraph 40)

13.  If the evidence base presented as a result of HEFCE's review of HEIF funding is strong, the Government should prioritise additional funds for HEIF in the next Spending Review. (Paragraph 40)

Measuring 'impact' of academic research

14.  Done properly, assessing impact as part of the Research Excellence Framework should help the higher education community to better communicate the purpose and quality of its work. Impact criteria should therefore enhance research quality assessments, not detract or distract from basic research, which may not have an immediately obvious commercial application. Our understanding of "impact" therefore needs to include social, economic and cultural factors, as well as how research can transform thinking within a field. Achieving this understanding will require sophisticated metrics, as well as an assessment mechanism designed to avoid the submission of stock answers as evidence to the review. (Paragraph 43)

15.  Care will be required when considering how much weight is assigned to impact within the overall assessment programme. The ability to produce high quality fundamental research is a strength of the UK's innovation ecosystem. This should not be taken for granted. There is a risk that increasing the weighting assigned to impact within the Research Excellence Framework beyond 20 per cent could distort funding away from this type of work, to the detriment of the overall system. (Paragraph 44)

16.  HEFCE should proceed with caution, and appropriate consultation, in its evaluation of impact criteria, taking into account concerns about both criteria design and weighting. Such consultation should include the full range of academic disciplines expected to engage with the REF, in addition to other interested parties. HEFCE should set out plans for such a consultation. (Paragraph 45)

University Enterprise Zones

17.  Universities are in a strong position to be able to drive growth across the country. Many have been active in local growth initiatives for some time, for example by engaging with LEPs. (Paragraph 48)

18.  UEZs need to fit within this existing local ecosystem for innovation. How this is achieved should be built into the evaluation of the UEZ pilot scheme, using the examples of effective collaboration already highlighted by previous reviews. (Paragraph 48)

19.  LEPs must have the freedom to work collaboratively to develop innovative bids for future UEZs that maximise benefits from the low levels of available funding. (Paragraph 49)

20.  The Government should confirm that future rounds of applications to the UEZ programme will be less restrictive in terms of who can apply to set up a UEZ, for example cross-LEP bids. (Paragraph 49)

The proposed NCUB Advisory Hub

21.  If the UK is to have a coherent innovation strategy, it is vital that there is a UK wide picture of the capacity, capability and coherence of local innovation ecosystems, and how these contribute to UK wide growth goals. Smart specialisation should be the means by which we understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of local, devolved and national innovation landscapes and strategies. Businesses operate across these borders and therefore government at all levels must provide a coherent package of innovation support. (Paragraph 54)

22.  LEPs should be fully consulted as a key stakeholder in developing the NCUB Advisory Hub. This would allow sharing of best practice and advice on implementing strategic plans for European Structural and Investment Fund allocations. These attributes should be built into the NCUB's recommendations to Government on the way forward for the Advisory Hub. The proposed advisory Hub should complement and link with the planned NCUB online platform. In addition, the Hub should link with existing relevant work, such as best practice guidance and other sources of Government support for business. (Paragraph 55)

A strategic approach to business-university collaboration

23.  We recommend that the forthcoming Science and Innovation Strategy address each key relative weakness of the UK's innovation system, as outlined in the BIS Benchmarking Analysis. The Strategy should identify and explain which Government policies, programmes and incentives are designed to tackle those weaknesses, and explain how the effectiveness of those interventions will be measured, monitored and evaluated. (Paragraph 57)

24.  As the Government prepares its Science and Innovation Strategy, there is a need for clarity on how its policies will utilise the strengths of universities across Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England within a UK-wide strategy. Businesses operate across the UK, so coordination with devolved administrations is required to ensure coherence in the innovation support system. (Paragraph 58)

Measuring success: the R&D scoreboard

25.  Many of the Government's major initiatives are aimed at increasing R&D activity in the UK and encouraging investment in a wide portfolio of sectors and technologies. It is important that the Government has a respected and impartial way to evaluate the success of such initiatives. This is particularly significant at a time of constrained public spending. (Paragraph 61)

26.  We recommend that the Government reintroduce a means of monitoring R&D activity, a function previously fulfilled by the R&D scoreboard, in order to measure progress in its R&D initiatives. Use of the scoreboard, or similar indicators, should be built into mechanisms for measuring progress in implementing the forthcoming Science and Innovation Strategy. (Paragraph 62)

The structural gap in R&D spend

27.  We recommend that the Government aims for 3 per cent of GDP to be spent on R&D by 2020. This aim should be built into the Science and Innovation Strategy as a long-term objective and as an indication of the UK's commitment to building capability in this area. (Paragraph 68)

Stability in the innovation ecosystem

28.  We agree with the Minister that greater stability in the innovation support system is required. We expect the forthcoming Innovation Strategy to deliver on the desire from businesses and universities for a long-term commitment to, and increasing stability of, mechanisms to support innovation and business-university collaboration. (Paragraph 71)


29.  We urge the Government to use the Science and Innovation Strategy as an opportunity to set out its plans to build capacity in the innovation system and to articulate an ambitious vision for this sector. (Paragraph 72)

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Prepared 28 December 2014