Close Links will Drive Economic Recovery

Universities, Business and Government Must Build Close Links to Drive Economic Recovery


Universities, Business and Government Must Build Close Links to Drive Economic RecoveryImproved connections between the UK’s universities, businesses and local government could unlock future economic growth according to a report from The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), which was commissioned by Lord Sainsbury.

The report concludes that a new model of ‘The Connected University’ – which harnesses a range of collaborations – will be at the heart of economic growth, supporting the development of regional ‘clusters’ of excellence. These universities, NESTA argues, should take centre stage in a new look UK economy, driving the development of high-tech growth sectors, such as biotechnology or green technology. This is already happening in some cities such as Sheffield, Bristol and Dundee.

Lord Sainsbury, the former Minister for Science comments:

“In the new global economy, if high-tech companies want to be competitive, they need to locate the key parts of their operations to information-rich regions where the concentration of research, creative individuals and infrastructure exist. The UK has world class research universities, comparable to those in the US but there is more scope for our business-facing universities to actively engage with small and medium-sized businesses and government policy should incentivise this.”

Jonathan Kestenbaum, NESTA’s Chief Executive says:

“The UK has major assets in its higher education and research base, and the nexus of business, universities and government should be supported to become a cornerstone of economic recovery and future growth.”

The report says that a ‘Connected University’ should not only think about formal technology transfer and intellectual property rights, but also about their wider contributions in helping to build clusters, connecting to the national and international economies and bringing together thinking, practice and finance. Some universities have evolved into this type of model and are having a major impact on the local and national economy. The University of Cambridge employs more than 11,700 people and indirectly supports more than 77,000 jobs in the eastern region of the UK. If the university did not exist, the economic impact on the UK economy over the next ten years would be a £4.4billion loss in GDP.

The model is epitomised by the successes of Dundee University in pioneering research and business developments in life science. The University is central to a cluster which brings together a combination of an excellent scientific base, effective links to industry and strong leadership. This has transformed the economy in Dundee, with high quality companies, research institutions and scientists gravitating around the University to create more than 4,000 jobs and accounting for 16 per cent of the local economy.

Another recommendation of the report is for Universities to develop more ‘boundary spanners’: people whose experience encompasses both public and private sector who can build links between them. Physical spaces are central to the idea of fostering collaboration between business and academia and the report calls on local government to plan for clusters which allow firms and universities to interact.

Jonathan Kestenbaum adds:

“At the heart of designing strong regional economies should be a focus by local government to plan for clusters. This will help us turn our academic excellence into economic value.”

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