Imperial College London

Future economy relies on greater business-university interaction

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A new report says collaborations between UK businesses and universities are held back by firms’ lack of capacity and information about the benefits.

The report into business-university interactions is released today by the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), with involvement from Imperial College Business School.

Businesses work with universities to solve a wide array of problems, to unlock new opportunities, and drive up productivity. However, the report concludes that collaboration is hindered by companies’ own lack of capacity to work with universities, as well as insufficient information on the opportunities of partnering with a university.

The report sets out the findings of a survey of almost 4,000 businesses on their interactions with universities. This is the largest ever survey of its type in the UK.

The authors found that people-based interactions are the most common form of business-university interaction at 45%, followed by problem-solving interactions at 30%, commercialisation at 24%, and community-based interactions at 23%.

The survey shows that companies of all types and sizes are “lacking in the ability to search for external knowledge from universities and invested only modest effort and time in integrating this knowledge into their companies”. More than half of companies with at least one interaction with universities said that lack of resources was the biggest constraint on further interaction, followed by difficulty in identifying a university partner to help their businesses.

"It's a lack of capacity on the part of companies, and a shortage of information provided by universities that is holding back greater collaboration with the UK’s university sector." Alan Hughes Professor of Innovation, Business School

Alan Hughes, Professor of Innovation at Imperial College Business School and a co-author of the report said: “A key finding of the report is that interactions take multiple forms that are far more frequent than spinoff and licensing transactions, and most businesses interacting in these multiple forms find benefits that meet or exceed their expectations.”

He continued: “But the survey results also make clear that it’s lack of capacity on the part of companies, and a shortage of information provided by universities – rather than the costs of interaction – that is holding back greater collaboration with the UK’s university sector, and this is costing the economy in terms of innovation and competitiveness. This issue could be addressed by businesses devoting more attention and staff to building their capacity for interactions with the university sector. This would be time and money well spent in terms of potential rewards and impact on company performance.

“Universities could also devote more attention to informing companies about the support that can be provided, and business schools have an important role to play in this.”

Professor Hughes worked with the Centre for Business Research (CBR) at Cambridge Judge Business School on the report, which was  the focus of an online NCUB webinar panel today.

The report also shows that the impact of COVID-19 has caused major disruptions to university-business links, with more than a third of firms reporting that it had impacted their interactions with universities. The authors note that if the destructive impact of the pandemic on collaborations persists it will harm future economic growth and business performance.

The report, Changing State of Business-University Interactions in the UK 2005 to 2021 was funded by Research England (UKRI). You can also read a summary of the key findings.


Reporter

Laura Singleton

Laura Singleton
Communications Division

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