The Future of Technology and Innovation Centres - Event Report

Sue O'Hare, Chair of PraxisUnico, attended this Inside Government event on Feb 24th, and shares the following insights. 

This event shared case studies and best practices from different innovation centres (including Catapults) and their local partners, and it was encouraging to see the wide spread of activity.

The event was delivered in partnership with NCUB and Rosa Fernandez, Director of Research, did the closing keynote on how universities are working with Catapults. A key message from this event was that Catapults are just part of the range of collaborative R&D mechanism, and there are many routes to success.

Mark Franks, Head of Knowledge and Innovation Analysis at BIS did an opening keynote speech with some interesting new charts about the UK’s innovation performance. His team runs the UK Innovation Survey which revealed:

  • Investment in research and innovation has proven economic benefit
  • The UK is one of only 3-4 countries with excellent research across a wide range of subjects – although his spider chart showed business, social science and the humanities getting relatively less excellent over time
  • Although the UK is 2nd in the world in the Global Innovation Index, it is only 8th on the EU Innovation Scoreboard and 10th in the Global Competitiveness Index
  • The UK Innovation Survey shows that 45% of firms have innovation activity, the UK does well on the import/export of technology and knowledge but labour productivity and R&D in SMEs is weak

Also at the event, Alice Frost talked about the HEFCE Catalyst Fund and the UK RPIF. Her view is that emerging themes in university-Catapult links include:

  • Research commercialisation and entrepreneurship (e.g. UCL and the Stevenage Biocatalyst)
  • Skills pipeline (apprenticeships, FE etc) and using the convening power of Catapults to define industry skills needs
  • Local and national agenda: smart specialisation and clustering
  • Sharing capital and facilities, incubators
  • SME agenda: working through technology clusters and supply chains, finding the ‘right’ SMEs to engage with
  • Testbeds and demonstrators, e.g. big data in Milton Keynes
  • International links and synergy between Horizon 2020 and ESIF

Alice showed a new diagram by Tomas Coates Ulrichsen showing that universities are choosing to be more ‘purposive actors’ in innovation systems, i.e. making strategic decisions to focus either around areas of excellence (e.g. the Surrey 5G centre) or around the place agenda and being an anchor.

The message about HEIF was that the HEFCE board has now agreed that the total pot for 2015/16 will remain the same as for the last couple of years at £160M (£150M allocated by formula and an additional £10M for the best-performing universities). The board has not yet agreed the method for determining institutional allocations. The indications are that there will be “a strong element of continuity” but it remains possible that

(a) the formula may be changed slightly, for instance by increasing the weighting for income from SMEs as recommended by the Witty Review,

and/or (b) more recent HE-BCIS data may be used. The board will agree the method at its meeting in March and will announce it immediately, to avoid any danger of getting into the purdah period before the election. If the decision is simply to roll the 2014/15 allocations forward, universities will know at once how much they have been allocated for 2015/16.

If the decision is different in any way, universities will not have to wait until the end of the purdah period before finding out. Each university will be notified of its own allocation and the overall allocations will not be published until the end of purdah.

Encouragingly, we hear that the 2013-14 HE-BCIS data shows universities “storming back after the recession”, with growth across the patch, and we look forward to the full report in due course.