… is apparently what the UK excels in according to David Willetts.
If you’ve been reading our blog, you’ll know we had a Policylab last night called ‘the Lambert review, 10 years on’, with an allstar panel: Sir Paul Nurse, Sir Richard Lambert, David Willetts MP, Prof Julia Buckingham, David Docherty and Rowan Douglas.
Marking 10 years on from the landmark review by Richard Lambert on business-university collaboration the panel reflected on Lambert’s review, and how the UK had progressed in this area since 2003.
There was no doubt amongst the panellists that business-university collaboration had indeed increased, that it had gone from being a part of what universities do, to being a key characteristic of a vibrant, successful university. There is often much agonising about the state of this collaboration, but the UK is ranked second in the world by the World Economic Forum for business-university collaboration in 2012, after Switzerland. We are clearly doing something right.
Despite success, there was the opinion on the panel that we were not as good as we could be. Universities are pushing to engage business, but business has not been creating enough pull to collaborate. The government have been trying to leverage business investment through co-funding models like HEIF, RPIF and the Catapult centres, and universities themselves all have business engagement teams. But R&D investment as a percentage of GDP has been on steady decline, innovation has dropped by 14% over recent years, and investment in businesses has dropped 34% in real terms.
But back to those births, deaths and marriages. The Minister for Science was not getting caught up in Royal Baby fever. He was rather reflecting on the fact that UK landscape for innovation provides a fluid environment in which companies and initiatives can develop rapidly and take advantage of new ideas and technologies; that these innovative initiatives can be scaled up or down, and are attractive to large companies who might look to ‘marry in’ to the UK’s innovative companies. What the UK is less good at is patient commercial capital, for various reasons, mostly related to the structure and types of businesses resident in the UK. We can’t, agreed the panel, just wish ourselves to be Germany, and neither should we want to. We need to make the best out of our own landscape, and recognise that different national innovation ecosystems provide the diversity that drive global innovation and competition.
So how can we, recognising that the UK landscape for commercial R&D is as it is, encourage business pull? The panel talked about a cultural shift, harnessing existing networks better, utilising new technologies, and engendering greater intellectual diversity on business Boards. All of these are being looked at by organisations such as the National Centre for Universities and Business, and even the Royal Society through its Year of Science and Industry.
10 years on from the Lambert Review, the consensus seemed to be that the next report, to follow on from the 2012 Wilson review, should concentrate less on what universities can do to attract business investment, but should investigate what business can do to drive and bolster this relationship. Any volunteers?