Research England has awarded a £1.2 million grant to the University of Cambridge to establish a Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI). The new unit will help to drive a step change in universities’ contributions to delivering increased research and development (R&D) and innovation in the UK through these uncertain and turbulent times.

UCI will be developed in partnership with the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) and the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (CSTI). It will create much needed capacity in the UK to support the needs of UK government departments, funding agencies, and universities for better data, evidence, and expert insights, to develop more effective approaches for university commercialisation and innovation.

The needs for better evidence are growing as we move from the immediate Covid-19 pandemic crisis into the longer-term economic recovery period, and as the government looks to maximise the value realised from its increasing investments in the research base. Universities need to find new ways of working with businesses, investors and others to open up opportunities for wealth creation, address emerging innovation challenges, and improve productivity. To unlock this potential, governments will have to adapt policies and funding programmes to become key enabling partners in this process.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the new Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation, said: “I am delighted to bring CSTI and NCUB expertise together to establish this important new policy evidence unit. UCI will be dedicated to building UK capacity to help strengthen the significant contributions that universities make to innovation through their commercialisation, partnerships and other knowledge exchange activities. The funding support from Research England Development Fund enables us to support policymakers, funders and universities with better and more targeted evidence and expert insight, to consider how to build on and adapt their approaches to university-driven commercialisation and innovation. This will help economies across the UK recover, reconfigure, and thrive through the economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic”

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), said: “We are delighted that NCUB is a strategic partner to the critical work that this new policy unit will be advancing. The nation’s recovery from this crisis will be aided and powered by new ideas commercialised from our world leading universities into business-led innovation. Understanding how this collaboration happens and how we can encourage greater levels of collaboration is a key driver for the work of NCUB. We are therefore thrilled to have this fantastic opportunity to work with leading experts in this arena and play a role in rebuilding a dynamic, inclusive, and resilient economy.”

Dr Eoin O’Sullivan, Director of the Centre for Science, Technology & Innovation (CSTI), said: “At a time of significant uncertainty and change, when the UK research and innovation base has critical role to play in national recovery and future industrial competitiveness, it is vital that policy makers receive focused and actionable evidence in a timely way. We are extremely pleased to be partners of the new policy unit, supporting their efforts to deliver timely policy studies and rapid-response analyses on topics related to emerging technology commercialisation and knowledge exchange. UCI is an important new policy evidence activity in the UK’s research & innovation system, bringing together state-of-the-art insights from academic innovation policy research with the professional expertise and insights of the UK’s commercialisation and knowledge exchange communities in both industry and higher education.”

Working closely with key stakeholders, UCI will be initially focusing on three areas:

  • First, developing an evidence base on how the Covid-19 induced economic crisis is affecting universities’ abilities to contribute to innovation, and identify possible actions to ensure they are able to play a strategic and active role in the national economic recovery.
  •  Second, improving our understanding of the research-to-innovation commercialisation journeys and examine how policies and university practices could be strengthened to deliver increased value to the UK.
  • Third, advancing the data and metrics available to better capture the performance of universities in delivering economic and social impacts through their commercialisation activities to facilitate more effective benchmarking and evaluation of performance.

UCI will be hosted by CSTI in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.