University innovation funding could be linked to SME work

Heif review to ‘look again’ at incentives for helping small businesses, says Hefce chief

April 17, 2014

Money universities receive to boost knowledge exchange could be linked to their work with small- and medium-sized businesses, the head of the England’s funding council has hinted.

The Higher Education Innovation Fund (Heif), currently worth £160 million a year, has been increasingly concentrated since 2011 on those universities that bring in larger amounts of money through their work with businesses and not-for-profit organisations.

But Madeleine Atkins, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, told a conference this week that universities’ interaction with small- and medium-sized enterprises “could be better” and that the Treasury “would very much like to see our engagement with SMEs picking up”.

Hefce was reviewing how Heif funding works and will “look again” at the incentives for universities to work with SMEs, she told the annual conference of the Association of University Administrators, held in Manchester, on 16 April.

Further announcements would be made during this calendar year, she added.

One of Professor Atkins’ slides also showed which Local Enterprise Partnerships had the most links with universities mentioned in their strategy documents – the South East Midlands, Birmingham and Sheffield LEPs featured the most partnerships with the academy, dwarfing other regions such as Oxford.

She also warned about a “worrying” 8 per cent decline since 2005-6 in the number of UK students taking full-time taught master’s degrees.

“This is not a good picture if you’re looking at the government industrial strategy, if you’re looking at the need for economic growth,” she said.

Funding for postgraduate study should be a key focus of sector lobbying in the run up to the next Treasury spending review, she added.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

Reader's comments (1)

Presently relatively few HEIs feature strongly in research, which presumably detracts from UK economic competitiveness. Perhaps therefore QR strategy could be modified to embrace CPD research capability (preferably aligned with the curiosity aspect), so potentially helping address the apparent associated performance shortfall of the sector In tandem maybe merging HEIF with much of the RC budget, and bids mainly awarded for innovative projects jointly shared with business and not-for-profits sponsors might also advantageously help.

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