University-led collaborations are showing signs of significant recovery after new data revealed the resulting income increased by 10.4% last year, compared to the previous year.

The results of the latest Higher Education Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey were published earlier today, showing that universities’ knowledge exchange income grew to £5.7 billion, compared to £5.2 billion between August 2020 and July 2021. The data shows that, despite post-pandemic economic challenges, the strength of university collaborations continues to grow, contributing to wider economic recovery and growth. 

 In addition, compared to 2020-21: 

  • 80,881 university-business interactions took place, up by 5% 
  • 25,760 licenses were granted, up by 40%  
  • 2,635 patents were granted, down by 21%  
  • 1,444 spin-out companies that had survived at least three years, up by 5%  
  • 176 newly registered spinouts, down by 9%. 

Freddie Jones, Head of Policy and Engagement at the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), said: “Despite the significant economic challenges the sector has faced since the pandemic, university-business collaboration in the UK appears to be growing in strength.  

“The overall picture is positive. The 10% year-on-year increase in university knowledge exchange income shows that businesses and other partners are placing ever greater value in their relationships with universities, and likewise universities are developing more external partnerships to help unlock the impacts of their research and wider capabilities. 

“Universities play a critical role in supporting the development of their local innovation ecosystems by working closely with innovative SMEs. Therefore, after two years of drops, it is also really encouraging to see a 4% increase in the number of interactions between universities and SMEs, and a 12% increase in income from those interactions – demonstrating more, and more substantial, partnerships are being formed.  

“There is a mixed story on specific university commercialisation measures. We have seen a sharp increase in new license agreements, and the number of spinout companies surviving three years or more continues to grow. However, we also saw drops in new patents and newly registered spinouts. Despite this, commercialisation measures remain high by historical standards. 

“Strong university-business collaborations are needed to meet the challenges and capture the opportunities facing the UK and the world over the coming decades. This data release shows we are moving in the right direction – but NCUB wants to work with government, with the HE sector and with industry to really shift the dial.”