On Wednesday 28th January 2015 leading thinkers and policymakers in the research commercialisation and innovation spheres will come together at a Westminster Briefing event chaired by NCUB’s Graeme Reid. The Government’s Science and Innovation Strategy has been published, the results of the 2014 REF exercise are out. Hermann Hauser’s mid-term review of the Catapult centres has been released. A review of university-business relations has begun and a general election approaches. Against that lively background, delegates at the event will hear views from, and raise questions with peers from across the country.

NCUB interviewed some of the confirmed speakers to get some early insights.

Dr Hermann Hauser, Author, Review of Catapult Centres Network:

“I was very encouraged to see how rapidly [the UK] are closing the gap.” Dr Hemann Hauser

During my review I visited all seven Catapults and have seen this vision becoming a reality. I have met their leadership teams, discussed their business plans and reviewed some impressive outcomes. I have met many of their customers and collaborators, and I have engaged with the broader innovation community to seek their views through an extensive consultation process.

I have been genuinely surprised at the degree of progress made and impressed by the quality of the people and facilities in the emerging network. The UK is playing catch up with the best innovation systems in the world in translational infrastructure, so I was very encouraged to see how rapidly we are closing the gap.

My main recommendations:

  • Catapults need consistent long term funding
  • Catapults should grow slowly at a rate of 1 to 2 per year
  • There should be more interaction with SMEs
  • Catapults should get closer to universities


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David Sweeney, Director for Research, Innovation and Skills, HEFCE:

“Our next task is to analyse the case studies to better understand how impact arises from research.” David Sweeney

The Research Excellence Impact element has been a success; the quality of the impact submissions was incredibly high in all disciplines and all UK HEIs demonstrated high quality impact. A diverse range of impacts were submitted including the economy, society, culture, public policy and services, health, the environment and quality of life, within the UK and internationally and not always stemming from expected disciplines.

The impacts, mostly the fruits of multidisciplinary work, reflect HEIs’ productive engagements with a very wide range of public, private and third sector organisations, and engagement directly with the public. Our next task is to analyse the case studies to better understand how impact arises from research and to identify how, collectively, we can better support the development of that impact. 


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Amanda Brooks, Director of Innovation, BIS:

“Collaboration – increasingly required across disciplines, between business and researchers, across national boundaries.” Amanda Brooks

Along with my team, I spent most of 2014 thinking about the future of science and innovation in the UK as we worked with Ministers and colleagues to develop the Government’s new science and innovation strategy. This was published in December. The strategy sets out the Government’s ambition to make the UK the best place to do science and business, and five principles that will underpin the approach to achieving this:

  • Excellence – long at the heart of the UK’s approach to supporting science and innovation.
  • Collaboration – increasingly required across disciplines, between business and researchers, across national boundaries.
  • Agility – the ability to respond positively and at pace to new emerging opportunities.
  • Place – science and innovation happens in places and the clustering together of resources can be conducive or even essential to success.
  • Openness – to involving the public in debate and in research.

These ambitions and principles will be key for the approach in 2015 – and, hopefully, beyond given the widespread support that they have attracted. But what will this mean in practice?

Sir Keith O’Nions, Chairman, Cambridge Enterprise:

Our Plan for Growth: Science and Innovation is a welcome and natural successor to the Science & Innovation Investment framework 2004-2014. The 2004-2014 framework had research excellence and sustainability at its heart. Given that such a bedrock is sustained then the new Plan’s focus on innovation and research commercialisation is a powerful prescription for economic growth. The emphasis given to creating Places, Talent, University- Industry collaboration and Infrastructure Investment are key.

“Catapults can play a larger part but co-location of business and academic research is the key.” Sir Keith O’Nions

There is a high-level of expectation everywhere- from government, from investors, from Industry, from Universities to mayors and regional authorities – that the UK will become increasingly successful over the next five years. National and regional policy will be key to innovation and research commercialisation. However between 2015 and 2020 policy devolution at both the national and regional level can be expected to change, possibly substantially.

Catapults can play a larger part but co-location of business and academic research is the key. Much of this will happen in less formal ways through a variety of constructs. Innovate UK is now better poised to provide the right support. It may have an important role in supporting new policy initiatives regionally and locally.

The major political parties have had similar policies for investment in research, innovation and higher education. They all recognise the unique strengths of the UK. Higher education, student fees and loans will inevitably feature in the forthcoming election. Explicit or implicit trade-offs with research and innovation budgets will be present. It is essential that the impacts of ‘policy options’ are fully analysed and aired.

Charity funding of research may well grow as a proportion of overall funding. Industry funding should increase with economic growth and philanthropy is set to grow strongly in UK. This will increasingly support undergraduate and postgraduate studies and research as it does in the US. It seems inevitable that some universities will be offered more independence from government as public funds become a smaller proportion of their budgets.

National and regional policy will be key to innovation and research commercialisation. Between 2015 and 2020 changes policy devolution to both the national and regional level are to be expected. There could be some major opportunities – there could be some uncertainty.


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Simon Andrews, Executive Director, Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd:

“Many UK universities have expressed their desire to see some of their larger and successful departments establish better mechanisms to engage with industry…” Simon Andrews

Fraunhofer UK will expand only in technical areas where there is an excellent UK academic base and current UK industrial demand not met by existing RTOs. Many UK universities have expressed their desire to see some of their larger and successful departments establish better mechanisms to engage with industry and ensure more value is delivered through more translation of their science and engineering innovations to industrial gains. Fraunhofer centres are one proven method of achieving this, and they tend to have a core technical depth in an enabling technology. We see this as being complimentary to the aims, models and broader market view that most Catapults enjoy.

The Fraunhofer model is to build centres organically, bottom-up, and addresses many of the recommendations to government of various reports. As a non-profit distributing Research and Technology Organisation, Fraunhofer UK is of course pursing a collaborative approach with many organisations and we look forward to further expansion of the UK RTO sector. As Hauser points out, the UK’s efforts in this space lag well behind other nations. The Hauser review itself is very exciting and sets out a bold vision of how the UK might deliver economy-changing results. This vision considers a long-term investment view, and as such must be given a suitably long period to prove itself. Fortunately there appears to be strong cross-party support from the UK and devolved administrations for the concept of ongoing funding for innovation models such as Catapult and Fraunhofer.

Sherry Coutu CBE, Entrepreneur & author The Scale Up Report:

I hope the Science and Innovation strategy will address the skills crisis in the UK. The UK has a major skills crisis that is holding back science based companies from flourishing. Such firms have generated 100 per cent of all net new jobs in the Europe in the last five years. There were 990,000 open positions at the end of July 2014 – this means that STEM businesses are unable to take on new customer orders because they are unable to hire the staff to fulfil them.

Skills shortages were cited as the most significant issue for the scale-up companies that we interviewed and surveyed for this review. These companies particularly had issues recruiting people with technical and business skills, whether taking on young people straight from education or those with more experience. These skills are particularly important for rapidly scaling scientific businesses to enable them to develop new products and services, navigate new markets and develop their business structures. The demand for technical skills is set to increase: The Royal Society has predicted that the UK will need one million new science, engineering and technical professionals by 2020.

“Theses companies particularly had issues recruiting people with technical and business skills, whether taking on young people straight from education or those with more experience.” Sherry Coutu

But what changes are we likely to see after the 2015 election? I sincerely hope there will be a long-term focus on fixing the skills crisis, which I consider the biggest problem of our time, far more important to tackle than ‘finance’.

In terms of Non-Governmental funding and support, it’s more a change of emphasis – and making sure that what gets support can prove that it will have impact; spend a proportion of ‘startup’ ‘entrepreneurship’ or ‘infrastructure’ money on helping the people running the companies creating our jobs.

We must understand how lessons can be implemented locally and nationally; measure and monitor and expand those that are working and drop follow-on funding for the 90% of initiatives that do not appear to actually work.

The Westminster Briefing entitled Innovation and Research Commercialisation in the UK will take place on Wednesday, 28th January 2015 11.00am – 3.30pm at One Drummond Gate, London. For more information and to book a place, click here

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