Spinoffs put UK in the lead

December 7, 2001

British universities compare favourably with their North American counterparts in their links with business, a survey has shown.

UK universities spun off 199 companies in 1999-2000 - one company for every £8.6 million of research spending. This ratio was one-to-£13.9 million in Canada and one-to-£53.1 million in the United States.

The UK has a marginally higher percentage of business-sponsored research than the US, with 12.3 per cent of the £2 billion spent on research in 1990-2000 paid for by businesses. UK universities filed one new patent for every £2.4 million of research expenditure last year, compared with £2.9 million for US universities.

Science minister Lord Sainsbury said: "The argument that US universities do more industrial research than British counterparts is no longer true."

The survey was carried out by the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University, on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Education and Skills and other UK higher education funding bodies.

It found a significant increase in the number of spinoff companies in 1999-2000, compared with an annual average of 70 over the previous five years. But these were concentrated, with only 24 universities spinning out more than two companies that year.

The number of patents filed has jumped by almost a quarter over the past two years. They were again clustered around research-intensive universities. Few institutions reported revenues from intellectual property that were higher than the costs.

Specialist staff focused on commercialisation activities are employed by over 90 per cent of universities and four out of five had a commercial department or company to manage the consultancy activity of their academics.

The researchers recommend that the Higher Education Statistics Agency collect indicators annually to help universities monitor strategies.

They add: "Although business interaction is recognised as an important part of the mission, and is an important source of funds, it is still managed as a marginal activity."

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