Today we publish the 2016 edition of our Collaboration Progress Monitor for England, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Collaboration indicators used in the monitor draw on the higher education-business and community interaction survey (HE-BCI) data on knowledge exchange activities between universities and businesses. The HEFCE report published today highlights that the total knowledge exchange investment across all activities from large businesses increased by 6.6 per cent, from £769 million in the previous year to £819 million, while small and medium-sized enterprises increased their spending by 7.8 per cent, from £201 million to £217 million.

So how many activities does this £1bn coming from UK businesses to universities cover? Our analysis of university-business interactions across the UK countries find that, in 2015:

  • English universities made 62,981 deals* with small and medium sized companies (SMEs), and 19,092 deals with large companies.
  • Scottish universities reported 12,698 deals with SMEs and 3,416 with large companies.
  • Welsh universities had 1,416 activities with SMEs and 1,107 with large business.
  • In Northern Ireland, the number of deals with SMEs was 1,523 and 603 with large businesses.

After the publication of our most recent State of the Relationship Report, I was asked why there were so many concerns and talks about SMEs not collaborating with businesses, if the figures in the collaboration monitor show that the total number of deals with SMEs is much above the number for large companies.

Yet the HEBCI figures on the number of interactions need to viewed within the context of the UK business population. There are a number of ways to count businesses in the UK, one way to get a breakdown by size is to draw on business statistics published by ONS at the start of each year.

The 2015 data show that there were around 237,000 small-medium sized business in the UK private sector (includes businesses with 10-249 employees, excluding micro-business with 1-9 employees). This compares to 7,000 large companies with over 249 employees. Large companies make up roughly about 0.1 per cent of the whole business population in each of the UK country and region.

If we disregard geographical factors just for this instance, and suppose that English universities collaborate with businesses located anywhere in the UK, we see that the total number of 19,092 deals with large companies exceeds the recorded number of all UK large corporations, which is not surprising as we would expect universities to have more than one interaction with each company. Similarly, 62,981 deals with SMEs is 26 per cent of the SME population in the UK, the number of collaborating companies is probably even smaller if we consider that universities also have more than one interaction with each SME.

While this direct comparison is limited and is used here for illustrative purposes only, it gives some idea of why we think SMEs present untapped potential for collaboration and knowledge exchange. We are working to improve the understanding of barriers to university/business engagement, and of the companies which are more likely to collaborate. If you would like to share your thoughts or relevant evidence, please get in touch with

You can read our 2016 Collaboration Progress Monitor here.

*Deals cover interactions in consultancy, contract, and facilities and equipment related services. Go back