Our national survey of over 18,000 academics captured the varied ways in which universities engage with external partners.

External engagement at universities refers to interactions with organisations outside the academia in the private, public, or third (charitable and voluntary) sectors. In the survey, which was run between March and October 2015, over 40% respondents reported engagement with the third sector organisations, and slightly less with the public sector and private businesses (35% and 30% respectively).

How do academics interact with external partners?

More than thirty different activities were listed in the survey. Those activities were categorised as people-based, problem solving, community based, and commercialisation activities.

Some might be surprised by results showing which of the thirty are the most popular for external engagement: fewer academics engaged in commercialisation activities, such as spinning out a company or patenting research, than in other formal activities such as joint research or consultancy, or in informal activities like attending conferences and giving invited lectures.

Similar trends can be observed in the findings from the annual Higher-Education Business and Community Interaction (HEBCI) survey where universities report the number of deals and cash received from interactions with businesses and communities. Latest results from 2014/2015 academic year, show that the IP income from external organisations adds up to £155m, compared to £1.2bn coming from contracted research or £442m from consultancy services.

Whilst the results from both surveys are not directly comparable, drawing on both sources helps to build a more informed understanding of the collaboration landscape and of the contribution of HE outside academia.

The survey of academics brings important contributions by uncovering informal engagement activities that might not be documented by intuitional-level records and are thereforemore difficult to track, whilst also providding an important channel for knowledge flows.

We will work to explore this important evidence in a series of briefings covering key themes of the report. For more information about the report and future briefings, please contact fariba.soetan@ncub.co.uk