The State of the Relationship Report 2020

The State of the Relationship Report 2020

This is the National Centre for Universities and Business' seventh annual assessment of the health of collaborative partnerships. The State of the Relationship is an exploration and celebration of the achievements made when universities and business come together to innovate and provide social and economic benefits.

Author: The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB)

Publication: 14 December 2020


SoR front


2020 has been a challenging year for the entire world and UK businesses and universities have not been exempt. Yet this year has also demonstrated the immense value of these groups working together. Nothing more so than collaborations to develop Covid-19 a vaccine.

In this seventh annual assessment of the partnership between universities and business, we reflect on this tumultuous year, the resilience demonstrated and the importance of collaboration in the UK recovery. Additionally, we consider the impact of Covid-19 on shaping the UK’s policy priorities. The pandemic has had a huge economic impact, with the OBR estimating an 11.3% contraction in GDP in 2020, representing the deepest recession for 300 years, and a surge in unemployment to levels that are yet to peak. The economic challenges the country faces at the end of the year were unimaginable at the start of 2020.

Covid-19 is not the only challenge facing the UK. The ending of the Brexit transition period at the end of the year will shift the country’s economic dynamics as well as specifically on R&D and access to talent. Climate change cannot be ignored. The UK hosting COP26 next year is an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership on this issue. There is also the fourth industrial revolution, which will have ramifications for years ahead.

Collaboration between universities and business is vital to address these issues. Therefore, this year’s report also considers what drives collaboration. The ‘levelling up’ agenda has been much spoken about this year and geographical proximity is important but not the only driver of collaboration. We consider the other forms of proximity such as organisational, social and institutional, which also drive collaboration forward.

As with the previous State of the Relationship report, we publish our annual Collaboration Progress Monitor, which for the first time looks at skills and talent as well as research and innovation. This analyses 25 different metrics over these two areas for 2017/18, the latest year for which most data is available, compared to a 5-year average. The data demonstrates an increase in university-business collaboration before the pandemic in a wide range of areas.

We will need to see if this trend continues post pandemic. To avoid any drop-off in the level of collaboration, actions need to be taken by the Government, universities and businesses in partnership. In the final section of the report, we look at the year ahead and the important role of collaboration in the UK’s recovery. As with our recent taskforce report ‘Research to Recovery: Delivering an R&D-driven Industrial Strategy’, we also look beyond our recovery to outline how collaboration is fundamental to the country’s long-term economic rejuvenation.

We are grateful for all the written contributions from businesses, universities and other thought leaders that made this comprehensive evaluation possible.

Previous reports:

State of the Relationship 2019

State of the Relationship 2018

State of the Relationship 2017

State of the Relationship 2016

State of the Relationship 2015

State of the Relationship 2014

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