Evidencing the effect of the Covid crisis on Universities and Innovation: why the UCI-NCUB survey matters

Evidencing the effect of the Covid crisis on Universities and Innovation: why the UCI-NCUB survey matters

Covid image webBy Alice Frost, Director of Knowledge Exchange at Research England. This blog was first published here.

At Research England (RE) we are passionate about evidence that can inform and shape policy, strategy, delivery and performance. This is exemplified in our creation of the higher education business and community inter-action (HEBCI) survey in 1998. Sector wide HEBCI data has helped demonstrate progress to provide assurance to Government and scale to inform spending review cases; and it has provided benchmarking information for policy and practice– and thereby helped bust persistent myths.

We are therefore very pleased to be founding funder of the new University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI) policy evidence unit at Cambridge, and a supporter of its strategic alliance with the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB).

The survey that UCI-NCUB are currently conducting on the effects of covid on university KE is vital evidence to inform responses to the R&D roadmap, but its sector wide outcomes will also be invaluable to funding, delivery and to universities themselves.

 Why is this survey so important?

First, it will inform the work of the NCUB task force that is providing evidence and insights on responding to the Government’s R&D roadmap. Joe Marshall and I set out the thinking behind the task force at its launch. We need to understand what is happening now due to the immediate consequences of the covid 19 virus, but also what may happen due to subsequent economic and societal changes, and also what can happen in the longer run for the UK economy to be more successful, sustainable and inclusive. We need to understand timing and scale of changes, and in relation to universities, businesses and the system more generally. I know that UCI and NCUB are already putting together digests of academic and expert intelligence from across the world to inform policy and strategy. But we also need more real time and in depth insights, and at pace.

Second, it will help inform RE approaches to future KE strategy and funding. This includes our delivery of the R&D roadmap and approaches to the Comprehensive Spending Review: the funding needed through HEIF and the Connecting Capability Fund (CCF), the best methods for allocations in future (including use of the KE Framework) and response to new developments, such as on Place. We need to know the resources and other non funding levers that are required by universities to get the job done on roadmap and recovery. We believe that the sector wide outcomes of the UCI survey can give us insights on the challenges and opportunities in different types of KE activity (such as in collaboration and start up), in different types of HE providers, in different industry sectors and, potentially, in different regions, as well as critical timing issues (what resource is needed when).

Third, the survey should help us with insights on delivery, and we will lay the sector wide outcomes of the UCI survey alongside the evidence that we will gain directly from universities through returns to our HEIF accountability requirements. The timelines in the UCI survey fit well with our accountability timelines, with exceptional handling of use of HEIF in 2020-21 (when we assume universities are bouncing back), and then settled plans for use of HEIF against long term strategic objectives from 2021-2022 onwards. This will help us see the plans of each individual HE provider in context of the sector as a whole, and to identify and feedback key themes and directions of travel, gaps and opportunities, and thereby improving efficiency and effectiveness overall.

Fourthly, the sector wide outcomes of this survey should then help individual universities to assess and benchmark their approaches against the collective wisdom of all higher education.

Given all these important aims of the survey, it is vitally important to maximise responses from across the HE sector, to be able to provide the most granular and insightful overview data from the survey. If you want your evidence and insights to shape future KE policy, strategy, delivery and performance then complete the survey by Tuesday 8 September 2020. I thank you in advance for your contribution.

Date published: 26 August 2020

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