A new survey of over 18,000 academics in the UK shows that the majority of academic researchers are committed to helping the British economy grow by engaging with business.
UK academics agree or strongly agree that higher education has a key role in UK competitiveness, 30% actively work with private companies, and although basic research is vital, the bulk is user-inspired or applied.
The survey, the biggest of its kind, also showed that over half of the academics said working with outside partners influenced the way they shaped their teaching and almost a third that it increased the employability of their students.
The results show that funding and time constraints can hinder university partnerships with external organisations and individuals in the private and public sectors.
Dr David Docherty, Chief Executive, National Centre for Universities and Business said, Universities help the UK innovate by pouring out bright, inventive students. It is heartening, therefore, to see that connecting and engaging with external bodies has a positive feedback into teaching and the employability of students.
Professor Philip Nelson, Chair of the Research Councils’ Executive Group, and CEO of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), said: “This is an important piece evidence to support the case for investment in research. It shows that the myth of academics closeted away in ivory towers is far from true. They are actively working within society in a two-way process of knowledge exchange. Charities, businesses, government in the private, public and third sectors all benefit from the world class expertise held in our universities and researchers gain new insight to the needs and challenges of others.”
David Sweeney, Director for Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange at the Higher Education Funding Council for England said, “Universities are at the heart of innovation systems, with academics reaching out into business, communities and public services. As well as research benefits, the survey shows the inter play of research and teaching contributions to impact, with engagement in enterprise and skills agendas. It is also valuable to see universities taking increasingly strategic approaches to knowledge exchange and impact, to deliver maximum value for on public investment.”
The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange and External Relationships: UK Universities 2005 -2015, is the largest survey of its kind (over 130,000 academics were surveyed) and gives a comprehensive picture of the relevance of UK research to the economy and society. The economic downturn did not lead to a huge decline or swings in the external engagement activities of academics, although there are signs activities may have become more strategically focussed.
Commissioned by the Research Councils, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), and managed by the National Centre for Universities and Business and produced by The Centre for Business Research (CBR) at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College Business School, London and the School of Management at the University of Bath.
The report highlights that funding bodies such as the Research Councils and HEFCE play a key role in enabling and supporting engagement activities. Nearly one third of those engaging with private, public and third sector organisation indicated that they had been aided in their activities by the Research Councils.
Notes to Editors:
Copies of the report are available for download here:
The National Centre for Universities and Business is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that promotes, develops and supports university-business collaboration across the UK. The National Centre brings together leaders from across higher education and business to tackle issues of shared interest.
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