This insight was first published as part of NCUB’s State of the Relationship 2021 Report. Read the report in full here.

Collaboration will be absolutely critical to realising the UK’s ambitions for science. Universities, through their basic, use-inspired and applied research, and their varied knowledge exchange activities with partners generate and diffuse new ideas, technologies and approaches that not only have the potential to lead to ground-breaking innovations that transform the world but also help to deliver important incremental innovations that help to drive efficiency and productivity improvements. 

Through their research, universities also contribute to innovation well beyond driving technological advances. For example, research helps to drive: new business models and organisational practices to create and capture value; new ways of producing and supplying products and services in more efficient and sustainable ways; insights on how individuals and populations behave, respond and adapt to new technologies; and public policies, standards and regulations, and ethics frameworks that guide the development and diffusion of innovations. 

Universities leverage their expertise and infrastructure to support their partners in delivering their innovation activities. For example, they can help to understand the need for innovations and identify new opportunities. They provide services to support partners in developing, demonstrating and testing new technologies, processes and products/services, and on how to take their innovations to market. Further, universities actively engage to provide technical assistance to partners to help solve specific problems and in adopting the latest innovations to drive efficiency and productivity gains.  

Universities are also known to play an important role in strengthening the wider capabilities and infrastructure of the innovation system that shapes the ability of organisations to collaborate and innovate, and for innovations to be introduced and diffused. Examples include:  

  • Helping to build the necessary technical and managerial skills to innovate 
  • Investing in physical infrastructure that supports experimentation with new innovative ideas and very early-stage company growth
  • Helping to build research and innovation networks 
  • Facilitating knowledge spillovers that stimulate innovation in proximity to the university 
  • Providing strategic insights and intelligence to inform regional and national sector and technology strategies 
  • Working alongside key stakeholders to provide regional leadership 
  • Helping to raise the public understanding around the potential opportunities and societal implications surrounding new technologies and innovations (g. big data and artificial intelligence driven services)

The figure below, developed by the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit, attempts to bring together the many and varied ways in which universities contribute to driving innovation within the UK innovation system. 

This insight was first published as part of NCUB’s State of the Relationship 2021 Report. Read the piece on page 7 of the report here.