The UK’s innovation system is a “little bit broken” and universities will play a crucial role in fixing it.
This is the view of Richard Jones, pro-vice chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Sheffield, who posed the question in his keynote speech to the Association for University Research and Industry Links’ annual conference earlier this month.
Professor Jones said that the country was in the middle of an “unprecedented slowdown in productivity growth” that has “stopped dead” since 2008.
“Poor productivity growth is a cross-sector problem of what economists call ‘total factor productivity,’” he said. “In the broadest sense this means innovation.”
He said that it was up to universities, as one of the “strongest bits of the innovation system”, to do their best to held “rebuild this”.
“We ought to be proud of our university system, and there is an appreciation [in government] of what we’ve done to maintain this internationally competitive research system we have,” he said.
“[However], we shouldn’t be asking what the government can do for us, we should be saying, aggressively, what can we do for government to contribute to national priorities and in particular restoring productivity growth?”
He also said that universities have to be quite “ambitious” to help fix the issues that society was facing and some would need to change the mentality of their core mission.
“If you haven’t engaged deeply with your local enterprise partnership or combined authority by now, you need to get on that really fast,” he said. “I think universities do have to help rebuild the innovation system, particularly those of us who live in those places where the economic needs are very obvious.
“Frankly this is going to take many universities away from what they think of as their traditional missions and is not going to be totally straightforward.”