UK innovators outclass US

February 20, 2004

Income from new inventions and business collaborations is soaring in UK universities, a survey has shown.

The third annual survey of higher education business links, carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, says that there has been a significant "cultural change" in the higher education sector with institutions adopting a more entrepreneurial approach in their dealings with business.

UK academics generate more spin-offs per million pounds spent on research than their US counterparts. Income from intellectual property is up 83 per cent in one year, according to the survey.

Universities made £33 million in 2001-02 from knowledge-transfer activities. Their income from contract research for business rose from £266 million in 2000-01 to £328 million a year later.

The report concludes that universities are generating more wealth and creating more jobs than ever - reaffirming many of the findings of the Lambert report, commissioned by Gordon Brown, the chancellor, to investigate university-business links.

During 2001-02, the turnover of UK spin-offs increased from £212 million to £289 million. in 2001, UK universities generated 158 spin-offs - one for every £15 million of research expenditure, while the US saw 494 spin-offs - one for every £44 million spent.

The survey found that universities disclosed 19 per cent more inventions over the year, while income from consultancy soared by one-fifth to more than £122 million. Far more academics were engaged in consultancy work, and numbers of staff employed in business and community roles rose sharply. Some 85 per cent of institutions offered an inquiry service for small to medium-sized businesses.

Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of Hefce, said: "These results clearly demonstrate the high level of commitment that higher education institutions have to their business partners. The report shows a marked culture change in UK universities over the past decade, and that most of them are actively seeking to play a broader role in the regional and national economies."

Information from a wide range of knowledge-transfer activities, including licensing of technology, support for regional regeneration, provision of professional training courses and consultancy, has been gathered for the report. The public sector was found to be the highest-priority business area, replacing the information technology industry, which held this position in the previous survey. The cultural and creative sectors also scored highly.

Lord Sainsbury, the science and innovation minister, said: "UK universities have risen to the challenge of transferring their knowledge to industry and are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial. Their pioneering work is being turned into practical applications and is making a valuable contribution to the economy and society."

In 2001, the government announced the allocation of £120 million to over 200 universities, colleges and hospitals to enable them to exploit their research and development potential and to forge links with industry.

An additional £171 million was allocated through the Higher Education Innovation Fund after the 2002 government spending review to support knowledge transfer in higher education institutions. Further grants will be made later this year.

Treasury officials are considering proposals in the Lambert report to boost the HEIF budget by £60 million to £150 million a year and to create a £200 million scheme for business-oriented research in universities.

Alan Johnson, higher education minister, said the results demonstrated what universities and business could achieve if they worked together. "We have always maintained our commitment to encouraging effective university-business collaboration. The increased resources we are providing through the HEIF will go a long way towards boosting and increasing this work," he said.

alison.utley@thes.co.uk

The report is available from Hefce; Tel: 0117 931 7035
www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs

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