Lancaster University: at the forefront of eco-innovations

Lancaster University: at the forefront of eco-innovations

PhD graduate researchers at Lancaster and Liverpool lead the way in ecological innovations.

This case study orginally appeared on page 15 of the State of the Relationship 2014. The report outlines the state of university-business collaboration in the UK, featuring expert views and over forty case studies. Read the full report.

Lancaster University has long recognised the need to work closely with industrial partners to ensure that high-quality research meets real-world demands, providing opportunities for business and economic growth as well as ensuring graduate researchers are better equipped for the start of their careers.

Last year, in a novel approach to foster large-scale industry collaborative research, a partnership led by Lancaster University, and including the University of Liverpool and science and technology commercialisation company, Inventya Ltd, opened the £9.8m Centre for Global Eco-Innovation – which was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The Centre’s graduate researchers use the collaborations with aspirational high-tech companies as the basis of three-year PhD programmes and are supported by senior academics. These placements augment the academic strengths of a conventional PhD with the practical benefits of linking research to real-world needs of sponsoring companies.

As well as providing an invaluable launch pad for their careers, the centre addresses the need to improve levels of research and innovation within SMEs. It also helps to increase the export performance of SMEs, creating additional value and employment within the UK economy.

The businesses also benefit from the time, resources, contacts and expertise from Lancaster University and its partners, creating a research and development package worth more than £100k.

To date, 50 post-graduates have been placed on collaborative research and development projects with 50 ambitious high-tech businesses. In addition the Centre will support a further 235 short-term partnerships involving students and SMEs.

The project stands as one of the largest-scale collaborative centres of its kind in using PhD researchers to underpin substantive programmes of collaborative research. It currently involves a team of around 200 people and has an ambition of creating £45m of wealth for north-west England’s economy. The centre aims to work with more than 280 SMEs, develop 150 new products and services, and create 268 new jobs.

Getting the Centre up and running posed significant operational challenges. Finding and matching 50 SMEs and PhD students with an even geographical split across the North West region, including almost a third in the Merseyside area, proved a demanding task, particularly as this had to be done within a narrow time-frame due to funding constraints. It took around two and a half years of hard work and involved working with multiple funding bodies, including the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which part-funded the project – a first for a PhD programme in the north west of England.

The efforts are now starting to pay dividends and the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation has had a lasting impact on how the university seeks new ways to collaborate with business. With benefits across a range of indicators including business growth, developing research impact, academic teaching and boosting graduate employability the university feels that the Centre is performing well and is actively looking to pursue additional variants of the model. 

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