Government officials are considering proposals for a university ranking system that would grade institutions on their success in forging links with industry.
The system would complement the research assessment exercise and teaching quality assessment and could be used by firms and venture capitalists to help them decide which institutions were industry-friendly and worthy of investment.
A National Innovation Agency could also be set up in the Department of Trade and Industry to define and coordinate policy on innovation and exploitation of the science base.
It would rationalise and manage numerous overlapping DTI and research council initiatives designed to encourage science-industry interaction, such as the Foresight programme, Realising Our Potential Awards, and postgraduate training partnerships.
The proposals are the result of a two-year study by researchers from the Institute of Public Policy Research and the Policy Studies Institute. They are due to be unveiled on Tuesday at a "Knowledge Links" conference to be attended by trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers and higher education minister Baroness Blackstone.
A report on the study has been seen by DTI officials. Its author, Stephen Lissenburgh, IPPR senior research associate and PSI principal research fellow, is hoping its proposals will find their way into the science and innovation white paper early next year.
Dr Lissenburgh suggests that the agency could encourage matched funding from industry, deciding what proportion should be paid for out of the public purse. Blue-chip companies might be asked to contribute up to 50 per cent, while small and medium-sized enterprises might be asked to pay very little or nothing.
He believes the combined effect of the industry links assessment system and the work of the new agency could be to attract billions of pounds of investment.
Firms would be more willing to invest if universities gave working with industry greater priority, he believes. State contributions could grow through the "third leg of funding" for applied research, which should be increased to Pounds 100 million plus a year, he says.
But no money should be taken from the RAE, which can help firms decide which universities to work with, he says. Extra investment would help resolve the deadlock over academic pay and motivate institutions to play a greater part in improving the economy.