We are approaching the end of another year, where university-business collaboration has once again been a prominent part of the policy landscape.

From Dame Ann Dowling’s review, and the Government’s own Productivity Plan, to the recent Higher Education Green Paper and the Comprehensive Spending Review, the relation between industry and academia has been important at each turn.

At a local level, there is much to be proud about the ways in which individual universities collaborate with business both large and small, and the measures of collaboration both in terms of quality and quantity suggest the UK continues to move forward, and is in many respects a world leader. Whenever we critique university –business collaboration in a UK context, we should remind ourselves that much of the world looks to us an exemplar.

However looking to the future, there remain a number of specific challenges worth considering. The first relates to the absorptive capacity of small firms in particular to develop meaningful relationship with universities. More can be done to cluster small business together to achieve useful partnerships for both the businesses themselves and also the partner university. Universities such as Coventry and Hertfordshire have developed great schemes to partner with small business in particular, and more can be done to advance this.

The role of regions is of course a significant focus for the current government. The Northern Powerhouse has been joined by a Midlands Engine, but in practice what does this really mean? Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) play an increasingly important role to drive strategy in local regions, and the quality of input from universities to engage with the business mix in their regions is vital. The European dimension too is important, and will continue to be so, with European Social Funds and others being channelled through local infrastructure.

The final area of ongoing attention should be paid to skills and employability. Arguably the most importance interface between universities and business, is the transition of talent out of higher education and into the workforce. The dialogue between industry and academia in this regard is very developed, and if you look across the UK you will find scores of examples of industry panels informing the curriculum, guest lectures from business and opportunities for work experience to gain relevant experience for students. This agenda will continue to gain prominence, and both parts of the equation need to continually strive for better ways to connect.

The proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) says that it wants to be useful to employers, we wait to see whether the metrics or factors which it takes into account will achieve this. Business are clear that measures such as student satisfaction, how much graduates earn or how many hours a student has been taught are not measures of how well a student has been taught, how well they have been engaged in learning and crucially whether they will be an asset to the workforce. If the TEF has any chance of being useful to employers, it will need to understand that there is huge diversity amongst what employers want, and that simple measures usually offer simple stories – the devil is in the detail.