PraxisUnico response to BIS Green Paper "Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice - Consultation"

The green paper covers a wide range of issues affecting the future of universities and their supporting institutions.  As an organisation devoted to excellence in Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation of outputs from publicly funded Research Organisations, including Universities, we would like to comment specifically on the implications for the health of the UK Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation Community, and the role of its members in delivering economic and social impact for the UK from University Research and Education.

PraxisUnico welcomes the clear agreement in the Green Paper and the Nurse Review, which the Green Paper references, that preservation of the dual support system continues to be vital in preserving the successful research and innovation landscape in the UK built around universities, PSREs and innovative businesses.  The importance of great “discovery science” as characterised by Sir Paul Nurse is fundamental to the success of this endeavour, and we are pleased that the preservation of this national jewel in the UK’s crown is a high priority for government. The Green Paper also rightly notes that “levels of collaboration between business and academia are increasingly important to the economy”.

We are dismayed, however, that knowledge exchange and commercialisation is absent from the discussion in ‘Fulfilling our potential’ and that the role of HEFCE and RCUK in this important element of university activity is not fully recognised alongside their funding of research and teaching. It is vital that the KE-related expertise and experience held in these organisations is preserved in any reorganisation that attempts to reduce ‘complexity and bureaucracy’.  

We are concerned that the progress that has been made in developing this vital part of the system is not lost in the larger changes that are afoot.  Specifically, the HEFCE Research and Knowledge exchange capability which underpins the REF (including the REF impact case studies) as well as managing and monitoring HEIF – which has been shown to generate almost a tenfold return for the economy[1] - must be preserved in the new structures that emerge from the Green Paper and the Nurse Review.

Universities UK has already noted that: 

The Green Paper is silent on the future of the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), which supports universities to deliver a wide range of innovation activities and delivers a significant return on investment. It currently sits within the research function of HEFCE. Careful consideration will need to be given to its future governance to ensure that this critical funding stream continues.”[2]

In this time of change we would like to draw attention to the efforts of universities and their funders in HEFCE and the Research Councils over the last two decades in building capability and support structures for effective knowledge exchange and commercialisation.  This has been a combination of incentives. Alongside HEIF there is REF Impact; Research Council Pathways to Impact; Impact Acceleration Accounts; Catalyst awards and other, specialised, initiatives such as support for social enterprise.  These activities have been essential in creating a culture change towards impact and enterprise in universities that did not exist before and which is now recognised as world leading by the World Economic Forum.

“The government’s ambition is that UK universities will continue to increase their collaboration with industry to drive research commercialisation, and increase the income they earn from working with business and others to £5 billion per annum by 2025”.[3]

We would note that the dual support system has been effective not just in delivering excellent research, but in delivering increasing collaboration and commercialisation, as demonstrated by annual HE-BCI returns.  HEFCE have provided support and studied activity at the institutional and national level, while the Research Councils have provided funding and infrastructure at the disciplinary level. PraxisUnico believes that both are essential in delivering the returns that the Government wishes to see.

Preserving the dual support system must go beyond the mechanics of the funding streams and make sure the two different cultures are preserved:  one underpinning the health of research disciplines and the other the health of universities.  Both of these missions are critical to preserving the excellence of our national system and both must be carried forward into the new structures that emerge.

[3] ‘Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation’ July 2015 (section 8)