University-business collaboration in a Conservative majority government

University-business collaboration in a Conservative majority government

By the National Centre for Universities and Business, Policy and Engagement Team

 

Downing StreetFollowing five weeks of manifesto pledges, myth debunking, accusations and economic shortfalls, a Conservative party majority has now been confirmed and we know that Boris Johnson will be returning to No. 10 this evening.

But what does this mean for university-business collaboration and the causes which unite us? Earlier in the election cycle, we analysed the four major UK-wide party manifestos and published our asks of the next future government. Considering the common goals of both the higher education sector and our varied business members, we outlined six key areas for progress:

  • Deliver the future skills needs of industry by ensuring a financially sustainable higher education sector
  • Set out means to increase the diversity of higher education provision and uptake across the UK
  • Protect the international strength of the UK as an attractive place to learn and work
  • Establish clear plans for an R&D-rich economy and ease the commercialisation of great ideas
  • Maintain and increase investment in research and innovation – through association with Horizon Europe or other, creative means – to capture emerging opportunities
  • Harness innovation to drive productivity and better outcomes across the country

As the Conservative party begins to translate its manifesto into a set of priorities achievable with a comfortable majority, particulars will become clear. The Conservative manifesto contained assurances to double R&D funding, allocate £3bn for skills development, and revisit the many recommendations of the Augar Review. We can expect tuition fees to remain stable, for two-year post-study work visas to finally make their come back and for the delivery of the long-awaited Shared Prosperity Fund. But a number of these pledges and conclusions remain light on detail – particularly financial – and we remain concerned over the availability of researchers and scientists reliant on highly-skilled visas, for the achievability of association with Horizon Europe, and the place of an ARPA-alike in the 2.4% roadmap.

An inevitable consequence of any new government, especially following a substantial swing, is the changes in personnel and structure. We can expect to know after the weekend what the Cabinet and Ministerial team composition will be, but for now we know that all those previously holding office in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education have all retained their constituency seats and are therefore eligible to be reappointed.

Despite this, we can assume that there will be some substantial reshuffling, and old jokes about new old ministers may well surface once more. Long standing advocates of the role of universities in high quality teaching and research from across government are now long gone – Jo Johnson; Sam Gyimah; Justine Greening; Nicky Morgan; Roberta Blackman Woods; and Vince Cable – and we can expect the effects of this to be felt.

Of course, a reshuffle means new personalities and new priorities for both the higher education and business sectors to get to grips with. In some cases, this may present the opportunity for exciting policy changes. In others, the resurrection of old arguments believed settled and put to bed. For some universities, the central teams will not be the only ones to change. Most UK universities operate across multiple constituencies, but individual changes in representation can still have a substantial impact on the institution’s local engagement with civic players and businesses.

How this new government will quantifiably impact university-business collaboration will take some time to surface and measure. The metrics used in the State of the Relationship report to assess the progress of collaboration cover four dimensions, all of which have the potential to be affected: resources for collaboration, knowledge flows between universities and business, partnerships; and commercialisation activity. As we begin to fully see and assess the impact of Brexit in the 2020 report and beyond, long-term trends mapping the variables in the UK economic and political structures will produce an interesting picture of the far-reaching consequences of our choices.

 

Published: 13 December 2019

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