14 March 2014
PraxisUnico welcomes the Government's supportive response to the recommendations of Sir Andrew Witty's Review of Universities and Growth. We are particularly pleased that the Government acknowledges the great contribution made to innovation and economic growth over many years by UK universities, and we look forward to working with our partners to do even more.
The Government's commitment to long-term funding of Knowledge Exchange is very welcome, especially in view of the significant new responsibilities and obligations on universities that will need to be properly resourced. Our members will find it particularly helpful that HEFCE intends to provide early certainty ahead of the ending of the current HEIF in 2015, since this will ensure that universities are able to maintain and build upon their momentum in KE. PraxisUnico would be keen for any further review of the assessment process to enable some flexibility in the funding to reward \"rapid improvers\" and new initiatives, provided that there is a stable base level of funding.
We welcome the intention to 'join up' and simplify the funding landscape for businesses and researchers. The example of the Biomedical Catalyst as a joint programme between the MRC and TSB has proved successful and we would like to see it replicated in other sectors. Similarly the commitment to direct European Structural & Investment Funds towards innovation is helpful, though there is still a need to address the barriers to universities making best use of ERDF funding, as outlined in the earlier PraxisUnico/AURIL joint letter to the Rt Hon Michael Fallon.
The commitment to review the weighting of the Impact element in REF is potentially helpful to the innovation and growth agenda, although it will be important to ensure there continues to be room for excellent basic science whose application may not yet be known.
We welcome the Government's emphasis on making it easier for SMEs to engage with universities. As we have noted previously, there is a demand-side deficit in SME knowledge exchange and it will be very beneficial to develop skills in SMEs. However we should recognise that many SMEs will never need to interact with universities, and rather than trying to serve all SMEs, universities should focus their support on those best able to capitalise on it to produce economic growth - the \"vital 6%\" identified by NESTA that create half the UK's employment growth. There are 4.9m SMEs in the UK but only 180,000 academics.
PraxisUnico will be working with its members and sector stakeholders to ensure that access points for SMEs are being signposted appropriately. Universities may wish to adopt our earlier suggestion of using a common name for such a point of entry.
PraxisUnico welcomes the Government's agreement that LEPs need to work closely with
universities and each other if they are to realise the potential of innovation in their regions. We
are pleased to see the demonstration of progress in university representation on LEPs, the
production of ambitious LEP plans recognising the role of innovation and universities in growth,
and evidence of LEPs collaborating across geographic boundaries. The proposal of a Smart
Specialisation Advisory Hub to provide centralised support for LEPs will facilitate the latter point.
We also welcome the pilot University Enterprise Zones, though there remains a need to simplify
taxation treatment of university third mission activities. One possible route forward would be to
explicitly state that economic development is a legitimate public good for universities and
therefore within primary purpose.
Eight Great Technologies and Arrow Projects
While we welcome the focus provided by the Eight Great Technologies and the proposed Arrow
projects, it is important to recognise that many world-changing innovations over the past decades
have arisen as serendipitous outcomes of curiosity-driven research rather than from directed
programmes. Examples include social media, smartphone and tablet computing, low-cost
genomics and the Cloud. Schemes should be flexible enough to support these serendipitous
events when they occur and not rely on them fitting into existing directed programmes.
International Ambassador for UK Research
PraxisUnico plays a significant role in spreading good practice in KE and highlighting internationally
the things identified by Sir Andrew Witty that \"happen somewhere in Britain\". We are currently
strengthening our focus on industry engagement, in order to support our members as they expand
We are already working with many of the stakeholders mentioned in the response, and would be
keen to use our convening power to support and facilitate the various discussions that will be
required. We will seek to work in partnership to ensure a collaborative and cohesive approach to
driving the global impact of British inventions.
On behalf of the PraxisUnico Board and Committees
Dr Sue O'Hare, Director of Enterprise, City University London and Chair, PraxisUnico
Click here to read The Government's Response to Sir Andrew Witty's Review of Universities and Growth - British Invention: Global Impact