Research-poor told to look to business

January 23, 2003

Key points

  • Non-research intensive universities to quit new research
  • 20 new Knowledge Exchange centres
  • More involvement from regional development agencies in higher education strategies
  • More input from business on skills and vocational needs
  • Sector skills councils to matchmake between businesses and university departments

As the government contrives to concentrate research funding in a clutch of universities, a new research role will emerge for non-research intensive institutions.

They will be steered away from basic research to work as consultants to local businesses. Rather than licensing new technology, they will be expected to acquire a group of technologies from outside and develop them in conjunction with companies.

“We see staff in these institutions creating innovative solutions to real-world problems and needs, rather than themselves making breakthroughs in science or technology,” the white paper says.

Their mission will be to boost local economies, working closely with the regional development agencies. All universities will be expected to become more embedded in regional economies.

Government strategy for universities’ links with business will be driven by the conclusions of a report commissioned in November by chancellor Gordon Brown. Richard Lambert, former editor of the Financial Times , is due to report by the summer and his conclusions will feed into a Department of Trade and Industry Review on Innovation.

The white paper says that effective knowledge sharing between business and higher education would be crucial to the knowledge economy. It says there is already some good practice but adds: “Good links are neither extensive nor consistent enough.”

The £90 million Higher Education Innovation Fund from the science strategy will provide a permanent third stream by 2005-06 (£80 million available in 2004-05). Regional development agencies will have more input into allocating cash for the fund, which will work in tandem with research and development tax credits.

An extra £500,000 a year for five years will be added to the HEIF to create a network of 20 Knowledge Exchanges to be examples of good practice in links between non-research intensive institutions and business.

These could be individual institutions or consortia that might   include local further education colleges. They must fit four criteria:

* An excellent record in knowledge transfer and skill development with businesses in both public and private sectors  

* The funding will lead to a substantial improvement in what the centre could achieve

* The backing of stakeholders such as employers, local RDAs and sector skills councils   (SSCs) together with a strategy for the regional economy

* The capacity to spread good practice to other universities and colleges.

The first eight Knowledge Exchanges will open in 2004-05 with £6 million. They will be linked into the New Technology Institutes announced in 2001, which provide specialist high-tech learning programmes and knowledge transfer.

These will be backed up by SSCs, which will develop relationships between local businesses and university departments. This will entail joint curriculum development, work placements for students and the exchange of staff.

Foundation degrees will be developed to meet these vocational needs. They will be marketed to attract young people to higher education and to encourage adults to update their technical skills.

“It is of vital national importance that all universities, including leading research universities, continue to regard training for the public services - particularly the training of teachers and health professionals - as a core part of their mission,” the paper says.

It says that businesses must have access to all the knowledge and expertise held by higher education, not just cutting-edge, internationally competitive work.

RDAs will have a greater role in setting the local universities’ agenda. They will have more input into matching supply and demand for higher education and will be more involved in the AimHigher campaign.

Including money coming from the Office of Science and Technology, £114 million will be spent on knowledge transfer by 2005-06, an increase of 84 per cent in cash terms from this year.

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