The knowledge business goes into boom time

November 9, 2006

Industry and higher education are uniting to convert the intellectual resources in London's universities into sustainable economic growth and social gains

London has global strengths in economic sectors ranging from finance, business and professional services, biotechnology and medicine to entertainment, retail, art and design. But being a driving force for the UK economy and home to many of the world's best known companies would be impossible without a solid knowledge base. The city's modern-day successes are linked inextricably to its higher education sector.

At the same time, London faces the challenges of population growth, rising costs, housing shortages and an inadequate transport infrastructure. Economic contrasts abound - for example, although the capital boasts the UK's highest productivity rate, business research and development intensity in the metropolis remains low in international terms.

The London Development Agency - the body that is responsible for driving the capital's sustainable economic growth - works to ensure that London remains globally successful while improving equality of opportunity for all Londoners. The work of the LDA stems from the vision of Ken Livingstone, the Mayor, of London as a sustainable city that enjoys strong and diverse economic growth.

In a constantly changing global economy, London needs to exploit the opportunities of emerging markets while differentiating itself from rival world cities.

Innovation, knowledge and science are key tools to achieving this, and higher education institutions are in a unique position to contribute through their exceptional resources and successes in research, teaching, and technology and knowledge transfer. The LDA is eager to support universities and keen to acknowledge the diverse involvement of London's higher education institutions with business and the community.

It is promoting activities that range from joint working to improve business access to the knowledge and technology contained in universities and colleges to ensuring that the required level of skills is met within the workforce. The LDA also supports programmes aimed at promoting and improving the competitiveness of higher education nationally and internationally, and collaborating to ensure that the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games leave a lasting legacy to Londoners.

In November 2005, the Mayor launched Catalyst, London's science and industry council. This aims to shape the science, technology and design base and the role it plays in the capital's economic development. The council, which is supported by the LDA, brings together 12 partners from industry, academia and the public sector. Catalyst focuses on three themes:

* Providing a unified voice to champion the city's science, technology and design agenda

* Mobilising business demand for London's science, technology and design base expertise

* Addressing strategic barriers to increased business research and development investment in London.

Sir Richard Sykes, chair of Catalyst and rector of Imperial College London, says: "In London, we have the breakthroughs and the bankers, the innovators and the industrialists, but we need to be better at bringing them together to take advantage of all the strengths in the capital. With Catalyst, we aim to revitalise this critically important bridge, enabling business, industry and academia to mix freely."

This is at the heart of the LDA's knowledge-transfer strategy. Higher education's research and development spending in London is significantly higher than that of business, presenting an excellent opportunity to leverage university-based R&D into businesses through knowledge transfer.

While such activities benefit a wide range of enterprises, the impact is especially positive for a large proportion of those London businesses that are non-technical and non-scientific.

Other initiatives relate to strengthening the capital's infrastructure. There are projects such as SME Innovation Support, which gives small and medium-sized enterprises a combination of specialist higher education support, financial assistance and business mentoring; Shell Step, a student enterprise programme to link students with small businesses to work on innovative projects; and pan-London promotional programmes, such as Study London, which promotes the capital to international students.

London, in common with other parts of the UK, has yet to take full advantage of the manifold strengths of the higher education sector.

At regional level, the LDA is continuously increasing its support for knowledge and technology transfer, consolidating the regional science base and fostering links between London's knowledge base and industry. Talented researchers, enterprising graduates and professional knowledge-transfer staff are at the centre of London's potential to increase the impact of new knowledge on economic growth.

Programmes in development will boost interaction between universities and industry through greater people exchange and by introducing schemes to tackle issues specific to London.

For example, the LDA's Entrepreneur in Residence scheme, based on the successful King's College London and Eli Lilly scheme, looks to enable more secondments from industry to academia. Other initiatives range from supporting the uptake of science, technology and engineering skills in London to working on infrastructure developments to allow for future expansion of small science and technology-based companies.



Origin of students

  • UK 78%
  • Asia 8%
  • European Union 7%
  • Africa 2%
  • US 2%
  • Non-EU Europe 1%
  • Middle East 1%
  • South America 1%

Academic staff by subject

  • Science and mathematics 34%
  • Education 3%
  • Engineering and IT 6%
  • Business and administrative studies 7%
  • Art, design and architecture 8%
  • Healthcare 15%
  • Humanities, law and media %

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