Give universities bigger role in growing economy

Published on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 11:27
Written by Sinead Fynes Black

Encouraging a British invention revolution: Sir Andrew Witty's review of universities and growth is published today

A new British Invention Revolution turning ideas into job creating businesses is needed to help rebalance the UK economy and boost manufacturing, a new report published today said.

Sir Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a leading science and innovation company and one of the UK's major employers, was commissioned by the government to examine how universities can better support economic growth and drive exports.

Published today (15 October 2013) his report, Encouraging a British Invention Revolution, recognises that the UK is a world leader in technology and inventions and has some of the best universities in the world. But in order to punch its weight internationally in turning inventions into successful businesses, the report says we need to simplify complex funding streams and charge universities with a greater role in delivering economic growth.

He said:

"This country leads the world in many cutting-edge technologies and inventions. But too often we fail to turn these great ideas into successful companies that create jobs.

"Our universities are key to changing this. They are already a major competitive advantage for the country and I believe we could do more to maximise this. This report sets out how we can make better use of the ideas they create and working with other institutions how they can convert those into jobs here which support an export led economy."

The report proposes that "Arrow Projects" – cutting edge technologies or inventions where we lead the world – are created with universities at their tip, while local and national resources such as the Technology Strategy Board and UK Trade & Industry (UKTI) are lined up behind them to create the maximum economic benefit and to support export led growth.

These collaborative projects would not be limited by postcode or narrow locations, but instead by technologies such as quantum computing, which offers revolutionary advances in computer capability. Sir Andrew calls on the government to back Arrow Projects with £1 billion of funding, either new money or through the redirection of money from existing schemes. And by ensuring a one stop shop for funding rather than the multiple and complex applications that currently exist. In addition, he says universities should better support fast growing, innovation rich SMEs which have the potential to break into global markets and supply chains.

The report has been handed to the government, who have welcomed the review and will make a further, more detailed response in due course.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

"I would like to thank Sir Andrew for his review and appreciate his perspective as a global business leader who bases a large proportion of his work in the UK.

"We know that universities are engines of innovation and have an important role to play in driving our industrial strategy. We are already making strides to help commercialise the work done by universities under the Eight Great Technologies, which will help this country accelerate ahead in the global race. We will now consider the recommendations and respond more fully in time."

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

"The report recognises the many ways in which universities drive economic growth, from engagement with SMEs, working in partnership with local enterprise partnerships and business, to cutting-edge research. The future of the UK economy depends upon making the most of the knowledge, innovation and energy to be found in universities. This work is already happening but the report challenges us, quite rightly, to do more, and outlines several significant ways in which this might be made to happen."

Source: BIS

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