University ties help business foster innovation, report finds

February 27, 2004

Firms are far more likely to be innovators if they have links with universities, the most comprehensive survey of innovation in the UK to date has found.

Only one in five firms without university links is likely to introduce a new product. But for firms with joint innovation projects with universities, this probability rises to 72 per cent.

Regional Dimensions of Innovation , a report to be presented to a conference at Cambridge University on Friday, concludes: "This provides support for the Lambert review's conclusions that business-university collaborations are associated with successful innovation and thus bring broader economic benefits."

Treasury officials are considering whether regional development agencies can play a bigger role in nurturing university-academic links, following the Treasury-commissioned Lambert review.

Built on data collected by the Department of Trade and Industry for the three yearly European Union's Community Innovation Survey , the report provides a regional breakdown of innovation and a nationwide evaluation of the relationship between university-business links and innovation.

Christine Oughton of Birkbeck's School of Management, a co-author of the report, said: "While university-business links clearly foster innovation, their numbers are small. Out of 8,172 firms surveyed, only 843 had joint agreements with other organisations, such as government and private research institutes, and of these only 306 had joint projects with universities."

The report found that firms most likely to bring new products to market are clustered in the Southeast and the Southwest. Almost 25 per cent of firms in the Southeast are called innovators.

Professor Oughton added: "Success breeds success and a regional paradox is created whereby firms with a poor track record in innovation find it hard to absorb and use funds intended to stimulate innovation."

The report concludes: "The regional innovation paradox suggests a need for regional innovation policies and to catalyse business-university links within the UK regions as a means of promoting innovation."

The Knowledge Exchange and Regional Competitiveness conference is organised by the UK Regional Innovation Network and the Cambridge-MIT Institute. It is expected to look at the role of RDAs in university-business links.

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