Sir Andrew Witty’s Review of Universities and Growth has now been presented to Government. Will it change anything?

Sir Andrew’s starting point is that Universities have “….extraordinary potential to enhance economic growth ……” and their contribution to that agenda can be leveraged more effectively by developing their third mission: business engagement, knowledge exchange, translation – call it what you will.

Some will object that this corrupts the fundamental purpose of a University and might argue we should stick to our first two missions: teaching and learning, and research.

So let’s start again. Surely no one would object to the proposition that Universities are fundamental to economic and social development? It has always been thus. But the reality is, these cannot be delivered on a sustainable basis without economic growth. Moreover, in an economy like the UK, generating growth means stimulating and developing the knowledge based economy and Universities are at the very heart of that.

So we are already in the game, one way or another.

I think Witty offers up a good challenge to universities, government and business. To the first, his challenge is, take much more of a leadership role and ensure our research and talent development have greater economic and social impact; to the second, he says, make this happen by providing resources, incentives and a framework which makes collaboration easier; to the third, the message is wake up to the capacity available in Universities, not only in the UK, but through their extraordinary international networks.

There are good reasons why Universities should support Witty and buy in to this agenda, not because it may bring in a bit more resource, but because growth creates jobs and generates the tax revenues needed to fund social improvement. These spillovers in themselves make this an essential agenda.

But there is more to it than that. Nurturing partnerships with business and civil society can (and does) inform and enrich research; knowledge exchange can take research to innovation as well as bringing new resource and expertise to the laboratory and lecture theatre; and partnerships create opportunities for our students.

Government should support Witty’s conclusions and recommendations and allocate the funding he proposes, to enhance the Higher Education Innovation Fund and make his ‘Arrow Projects’ happen. Not every University might buy in, but enough will see the opportunities this offers both in developing and enriching what they do and in enhancing their economic and social impact.

Yes, we should bother with Witty.

Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor, University of Nottingham