On Thursday 13 October, Sam Laidlaw, Chair of NCUB, hosted a reception in the Houses of Parliament, which brought together senior leaders from universities, business, policy and funding bodies to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing university-business collaboration in the UK. 

The event saw keynote speeches from Sam, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Chair and former Business Secretary, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, and the new Executive Chair of Research England, Professor Dame Jessica Corner. 

University-business collaborations can help ‘shift the dial’ on economic growth

Speaking at the Reception, Sam said key collaborations between the UK’s world-leading universities and innovative businesses must be at the centre of the Government’s plans to achieve strong economic growth. 

Reflecting on the challenges of economic instability and fiscal pressures, he said that if the Government honoured previous commitments made to research and development (R&D) investment, there was no doubt that the UK would feel the long-term benefit. 

Setting out NCUB’s priorities, Sam said that the organisation was focussing on ‘shifting the dial’ in key areas by concentrating on improving the movement of people between industry and academia, identifying the most important factors that attract inward investment into R&D, and maintaining a clear, evidence-based picture on the trends of collaboration between universities and business in the UK. 

Researcher Mobility Taskforce

NCUB’s Chair set out plans for a new NCUB Taskforce – endorsed by Research England – that will convene a group of university and business leaders to explore ways to support more researchers to build exciting careers that span university and industrial settings, in turn strengthening collaboration and delivering clear benefits for their employers and the UK economy. He explained that both universities and businesses rely on talented research and technical staff moving between industry and academia. He said: “We need to take pretty urgent action and the Taskforce will help us to improve working on porosity and to look at how other nations support that with a view to coming up with some practical recommendations.” 

Foreign Direct Investment (‘FDI’)

Following on from the work of NCUB’s 2020 R&D Taskforce, tasked with understanding how the UK is to become a global science superpower, one of the R&D Taskforce’s clear recommendations was for the UK to create a new FDI strategy and to better understand the drivers that influence private investment and what the key priorities are for different types of businesses across different sectors in different locations. Sam noted that NCUB is forming a senior advisory group to enhance the evidence base on this complex issue later in the year. 

State of the Relationship

The Chair also highlighted to attendees that NCUB would be publishing its flagship annual State of the Relationship report in December. The report will include a deep analysis of the latest data to build an informed picture of university-business collaboration in the UK, while also inviting experts to offer their insights on a range of collaboration trends, and what the future of collaboration could look like. 

Attendees at the Chair’s reception also heard from the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, and Professor Dame Jessica Corner, the new Executive Chair of Research England. 

Greg Clark, who was recently re-appointed as Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, highlighted the vital role that university-business collaborations play in driving UK growth and solving major societal challenges. He spoke about potential future areas of interest for his committee – including taking a close look at recent changes to how the Office for National Statistics measures business expenditure on R&D, while noting the need for the UK not to be complacent about public R&D investment in order to realise our science and technology potential. So that we may compete with the likes of Japan and China in seizing global competitive advantage, he said, we need to be aiming much higher than the current 2.4% R&D spending target. 

Fittingly, it was left to Professor Dame Jessica Corner to close the keynote speeches. At her first public speaking event in her new role, Professor Dame Jessica encouraged the room and all elements of the research and innovation ecosystem to collaborate and work more closely together to help drive the UK forward. She said this would lead to increased productivity and long-term, sustainable economic growth in the UK.