Surge in spin-offs fails to bring in the money

March 14, 2003

Technology transfer activity in universities has increased by 25 per cent in the past year, according to a government survey released this week.

UK universities created 248 spin-offs in 2000-01, up from 203 the year before. But the cost of each spin-off in terms of average research expenditure rose dramatically while income from selling spin-off company shares fell from £38 million to £30 million.

The second Higher Education Business Interaction Survey was carried out by Newcastle University's Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies for the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office of Science and Technology.

The survey categorised institutions by the proportion of income channelled into research. Activity was divided into eight categories, including intellectual property and spin-off outcomes, collaboration with business, and support for economic development.

Most institutions were found to already fit the white paper model, whereby lower research-intensive institutions focus on local partnerships and regional skills needs, while higher research-intensive universities carry out most technology transfer and research collaboration.

Last year, universities signed 10,951 contracts with business valued at £261 million. The survey found that almost half the universities had incubation facilities and two-thirds had access to early-stage investment.

Last year, each £12 million of research expenditure led to a spin-off, up from £8.6 million. In contrast, US research, which produced one spin-off per £53.1 million of research in the last survey, now produced one spin-off for each £46 million spent. But US universities were more active in licensing activity, generating 4.3 per cent of their research income through this, compared with just 0.6 per cent in the UK.

The Yorkshire and Humberside region created the most spin-offs over the period, totalling 29. London and the North West had and 24 respectively.

The number of patents filed rose to 913 in 2000-01, from 725 the year before.

* The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is to make a significant increase to the funding of knowledge transfer over the next three years.

Scotland's minister for enterprise, transport and lifelong learning, Iain Gray, noted that while Scotland had only 9 per cent of the UK population, its universities generated 14 per cent of higher education spin-off companies, granted 15 per cent of intellectual property licences and filed 11 per cent of patents.


Source: Higher Education Business Interaction Survey 2000-01

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