Universities' business ties are wider but may not be lasting

NCUB report finds engagement with small firms has grown over the past decade but the size of each tie-up has been shrinking

May 14, 2015

Source: Getty

Sizing up: is it better to have more small deals or fewer large ones?

Universities have increased their engagement with small businesses but may have spread resources thinly in partnerships that lack longevity, a report has warned.

The National Centre for Universities and Businesses annual report on academic industry relations finds that the opposite is true of deals with large corporations, which have decreased in number but grown in size. It also uncovers a £600 million mismatch between what universities say they receive from businesses and the amount that industry claims to invest in higher education research and development.

The State of the Relationship Report 2015 is the NCUB’s flagship publication and is commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

It finds that there has been a clear drive for universities to engage with small businesses as this activity has increased over the past 10 years, but the size of each deal has been falling.

Rosa Fernandez, the NCUB’s director of research, said: “Whereas this means higher engagement with more businesses, it also means they are smaller deals [that may] not last as long.” The opposite is true for relationships with large businesses, which have fallen in number but grown in size and may prove more enduring, she added. The report reveals that businesses invested £300 million in higher education research in 2012, but universities reported almost £900 million in income from industry partners in 2012-13.

The mismatch is likely down to businesses in the services sector, such as banking and insurance companies, that do not have research and development budgets but still invest in universities, she said.

Investment into universities from overseas has increased over the past decade, the NCUB report says. Dr Fernandez warned that although this is generally thought of as a “good thing”, as it shows how valued UK universities are outside the country, it also demonstrates an “increasing dependence on external investment that potentially can fly away”.

She added: “Research and development budgets alone are only going to be a subset of all the other things that universities and businesses do together.”

For the first time, the report brings together a series of measures of various aspects of university business collaborations that could act as an early warning tool for the future. Indicators include the number of joint publications, patents and graduates employed in innovative sectors.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

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