The recommendations made by Dame Ann Dowling in her 2015 report on university-business collaboration have been fully accepted by the UK government in its official response.
Dame Ann, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, had written that government’s “excessively complex” schemes to assist collaboration meant that the UK was not benefiting fully from connecting innovative businesses with academic research. In response to her calls to simplify the public support system, the government said that it “fully accepts” her proposals.
The response from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, published on 20 December, says that Innovate UK has “introduced a new sector focus and simplified offer for all funding”, which includes two competitions of funding per year – in areas such as health and life sciences, and manufacturing and materials – and a further two “open” competitions from any sector.
Furthermore, the research councils and Innovate UK have been working with universities and business applying for grant funding to develop a system that will be “a simpler, more intuitive and flexible experience”. The government adds that it is “committed to implementing a ‘no wrong door’ approach across Innovate UK and all science and research funding councils”.
Elsewhere, the government recognises the importance the review placed on “creating an incentive framework” to promote the transfer of “ideas and people” between business and academia, and aiding students to develop business awareness early in their research careers.
It acknowledges “more can be done” to help broker relationships between industry and research partners and reaffirms its commitment to providing financial support to initiate collaborations – citing the October announcement of £100 million additional funding over the next four years to “incentivise universities to work together across England in collaborations in technology transfer and in engaging with business”.
“This will enable universities to sustainably pool expertise, respond flexibly to industrial and regional priorities, and make it easier for businesses to access opportunities to work with them,” it states.
Commenting on the government’s response to her review, Dame Ann said that she was pleased to see “how strongly” her recommendation to reduce complexity had resonated.
“While some complexity...is understandable, it was clear the government needed to simplify the public support system,” she said. “I’m pleased to see the extent to which Innovate UK has embraced this recommendation, in particular its implementation of the ‘no wrong door’ approach which means, regardless of how a business first approaches them, Innovate UK will ensure that the business is guided to the right part of Innovate UK seamlessly.”
A spokesman for the Russell Group said that the government must now follow through with their promises.
“Current mechanisms to support university-business collaboration are valuable but could be more effective. The Dowling Review identified clear areas where improvements could be made and the government has endorsed this. Ministers now need to ensure they follow through and deliver.
“Sustained long-term public investment in research and innovation is needed to ensure that the UK’s leading universities can continue to provide businesses with access to a critical mass of research excellence across disciplines.”
Naomi Weir, deputy director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said that she was pleased that the review has “not been left in a desk drawer” and “the points it raised are being worked on by government”.