As Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts garnered a deserved reputation as a powerful advocate for science, innovation and universities. He was a strong supporter of the need for an organisation like us which has one simple, but powerful ambition – to help the UK to become the best for university-business collaboration in the interests of promoting prosperity and well-being in the UK. We thank him for his work and wish him well in his future career.
With the arrival of a new minister, Greg Clark, we asked some of the NCUB staff what should be on his desk.
David Docherty, Chief Executive, on supporting different kinds of businesses
The fact that the new minister retains his brief for cities will help join up the innovations systems in cities and regions and bring focus to the challenge of retaining high-quality talented graduates outside of London and the South East. The gravitational force of the capital is so powerful that we need countervailing pull, which means mobilising local businesses – particularly those growing quickly or who are driven by the need to innovate. So figuring out how to create more effective, systematic brokerage for small and mid-sized businesses is vital. In particular we need to modernise such services through the use of online business networks. And finally, much of government support – and university focus – is on so-called SMEs. The innovation and talent needs of potential economic powerhouses of companies turning over between £30m-£150m should also make its way to the top of the ministerial red box.
Joe Marshall, Chief Operating Officer, on the role of universities in their local economies
Universities play a critical role in shaping and driving local economies. Not only are universities anchor institutions to an area, where place is written into the name of the institution, they are increasingly active partners in helping to influence, drive and meet the needs of the local economy. Universities are working ever closer with their respective Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to help shape and deliver locally driven and determined areas of innovation focus. NCUB has supported the recent review by Sir Andrew Witty into the role of “Universities and Growth” and is taking forward on behalf of BIS the creation of a Smart Specialisation Advisory Hub for the LEPs. The Hub, planned for launch in November, is intended to be a resource with and for the LEPs to drive informed, evidence-based decisions on where to concentrate efforts. The minister should use his unique brief to ensure universities are real drivers for change in their local economies.
Aaron Porter, Director of External Affairs, on graduate employability
As the funding for students has shifted from the state to the individual, the extent to which students have focused on their employability has continued to rise. Universities are fully aware that graduate employability and earnings is now the most important reason why students enter higher education, but the quality of destination data upon which institutions are measured could still be improved. At present, most of the destination data focuses on the DLHE survey, which captures graduate destinations after 6 months. As the focus on graduate destinations intensifies, the new Minister will want to consider how the quality and depth with which we measure graduate employability can be improved to reflect this.
Rosa Fernandez, Head of Research, on improving a delicately balanced system
The Minister will have the fascinating task of coordinating efforts in a system that is fantastically diverse and outstanding by international standards. Inheriting a science and innovation sector that is among the leading performers in the world is not without challenge. The international race for innovation driven growth is relentless and being at the front is not a guaranteed position. The top performers, like the UK, are already doing some things well, we have excellence, autonomy, outstanding facilities, multiple incentives for translation, effective collaboration and a prolific and mobile workforce. Finding tailored areas where such a delicately balanced clockwork can improve is not easy. The Minister will have to gather the whole sector together in the pursuit of better performance to exploit the areas where we are best while improving others. Across the science and innovation sector, partners are already working together to uncover robust evidence of good practice in translating science into welfare through innovation. In doing so they also discover well-defined areas of opportunity for tailored improvements. Coordinating efforts to match those needs will require keeping the parts that work, new resources for areas of improvement and leadership to avoid fragmentation.
Graeme Reid, Strategic Advisor, on the science and innovation strategy
The Minister will a have a leading role in the development of the science and innovation strategy that will be published alongside the Autumn Statement later this year. The Government has done an excellent job of supporting science and innovation during the unprecedented pressure on public spending over the last few years. In return, the community has driven up the efficiency of the science and research system, increased the impact of science on the economy and made striking improvements to the relationship between business and universities. The strategy provides a vital opportunity for Government to capitalise on these gains by setting out its vision for the shape and scale of the science and innovation agenda during the next decade or so. I hope that the Minister will use the Strategy to reaffirm the Government’s commitments to the Haldane Principle; funding excellent research wherever it is found; nurturing the UK’s outstanding capability in fundamental research; further developing relationships between universities and business and allowing funding for science and innovation each to grow further.