The UK Government’s Innovation Strategy recognises that the UK’s ‘research, development, and innovation system [is] a critical national asset that will more than pay for itself’.  Universities play a critical part in supporting this system and will be central to realising the ambitions of the UK Government’s Plan for Growth.

Enabling collaboration

Research has shown that interactions between universities and private, public and third sector organisations help to exploit and maximise the value that university research and development does to increase the economic and societal benefit from their work. The Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) helps to unlock and enhance that collaboration through building core knowledge exchange capacity within universities in England.

Research England (part of UKRI) is responsible for HEIF, and allocations are spent by universities to support a range of commercialisation and innovation activities. For example, on average, 40% of HEIF funding goes towards developing knowledge exchange (KE) support for research exploitation, 16% to spinouts and licensing, 12% to supporting skills and human capital development, 12% towards knowledge sharing and diffusion, 9% to enterprise training and entrepreneurship, 7% to community and public engagement, and 4% goes towards supporting the exploitation of a university’s physical assets.[1]

Whilst these terms illustrate the breadth of activities that HEIF supports, they don’t necessarily paint a clear picture of the important opportunities that HEIF unlocks. To explore and demonstrate HEIF’s true value, NCUB this week published a short video demonstrating the value of HEIF to enable three universities’ innovation activities. Our video features:

  • Goldsmith’s University’s Research and Enterprise Team who have used HEIF to help develop a Digital Grid Partnership, partly funded by the EU. Through HEIF, Goldsmiths were able to create ten fully-paid placements with 20 SMEs, including gaming and biomedical research companies, to bring together computer studies students with SMEs. The project is pushing the limits, in one instance, to create immersive technology in a ‘game changing’ virtual dance computer game
  • Newcastle University, have used HEIF funding to bring in a business development manager for their integrated transport gas electric research laboratory (InTEGReL)- a test bed for future energy solutions. Through the work of the Business Development Manager, the state of the art facility combines research facilities to understand how transport, gas and electricity might work together to find future energy solutions and move towards the 2050 Netzero target. Recently, the university was successful in securing a further £2m in funding to enable further work through the project.
  • Finally, the University of Birmingham have used HEIF to embed new application engineers to accelerate the translation of research into practical devices and prototypes that UK industry will understand. This type of funding enables a university to take their research and make it accessible, changing the ways that UK companies operate and work.

These are just a few examples of the innovation activities that HEIF funding has enabled in the sector.

The Government has made clear that research and innovation is central to its future plans, so HEIF must be too. Every penny of public sector spending must be maximised to drive forward innovation, economic growth and recovery. HEIF funding has been shown to offer a strong return on investment, with an estimated return of £8.30 per £1 of public sector investment.

But the value of HEIF is about much more than this alone. The transformative opportunities to collaborate that HEIF enables, showcased through the three case studies we’ve pulled out, will be critical to the UK’s future success.

Watch the video here:


[1] Research England (2020), ‘An Update on IP-related and commercialisation activities in England 2018/19’