A lack of engagement by academics is holding back the transfer of knowledge from universities to business, according to an independent analysis of how funding for "third stream" activity is spent.
Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) examined how universities intended to spend the funds allocated to them from the fourth round of the Higher Education Innovation Fund, set up to support knowledge-transfer activity.
It found that a lack of engagement among academics was the biggest risk to the projects, with 59 per cent of universities mentioning it in their strategies.
PACEC found that more than a quarter of universities have no mechanism in place to monitor knowledge exchange and that institutions find it hard to engage with small and medium-sized enterprises.
But the PACEC report, based on submissions made by universities to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) detailing how they planned to spend the £396 million allocated over the period 2008-09 to 2010-11, said universities were already acting to ensure that their academic staff were more involved in third-stream work. It said institutions were running internal awareness-raising campaigns, and staff development and training.
The report concluded that knowledge exchange had embedded itself in "the fabric of the higher education sector" and that third-stream activity had become an important aim for universities.
Hefce's own commentary on the consultants' report highlighted examples of best practice. The University of Hertfordshire was praised for encouraging academic involvement in knowledge transfer by revising job descriptions, rewarding staff achievement and including the issue in staff appraisals. Durham University was applauded for working with local businesses.
Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of Durham, said: "We are committed to using our world-renowned expertise to positively impact on issues affecting the lives of local people, such as health, the environment and social inclusion. We are pleased our efforts have been recognised by Hefce."