Collaboration Progress Monitor 2018

Collaboration Progress Monitor 2018

NCUB Collab Progress Monitor UK 2015 Image Dec15-Cropped2

The National Centre tracks progress in UK university business collaboration using a bespoke tool. It identifies emerging trends through:

  • Publicly available data released annually*,
  • 15 metrics across four dimensions: resources for collaboration, knowledge flows between universities and business, partnerships and commercialisation activity, 
  • Comparison with the five year average, 
  • Detecting trends for early warnings of changing indicators.

Collaboration Progress Monitor 2018

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The progress in university business collaborations is monitored using the latest available data at the National Centre, covering the 2015/16 academic year**. Forthcoming iterations of the Monitor will begin to surface both the practical and perceptual impacts of Brexit, and structural shifts in the innovation ecosystem, on these trends.

This edition of the Collaboration Progress Monitor has surfaced some interesting emergent trends, and a series of longer-term indicative landscape shifts over the five year tracking. Principally, the quantity of interactions between universities and businesses has increased, but in general terms value has contracted.

  • Foreign investment in business collaborations with UK universities grew healthily between 2015 and 2016; but domestic businesses decreased their investment in the same period.
  • And while domestic businesses became more cautious with investments, they increased their interactions with universities. The number of deals both with large businesses and SMEs rose – but average deal size fell.
  • Graduate and post-graduate employment in innovative sectors fell.

University and business partnerships 2016

Universities registered an increase of interactions with SMEs of 11.4% from the previous year - but the size of the average deal fell 1.5%. Interactions with large businesses grew by 6.5% from 2015. However, the size of the average deal decreased by 3.7%. The size of the average deal with a large business remains consistently above a 5-year average, but it will be interesting to observe how this trend develops post-Brexit.

The number of Innovate UK grants awarded to universities in collaborative projects with industry fell by 21.9% from the previous year, but the average size of the grants awarded to universities in such projects increased by 13.5%. Whilst this pushed the 5-year average up to £136,121, the 2016 average grant size exceeded it, which suggests that the performance progress in collaborative university business projects focused on the quality rather than the quantity of projects, potentially making them more strategic, selective and impactful.

Commercialisation in UK universities 2016

In 2016 universities issued 25.5% more licences to businesses compared with the previous year. This was followed by growth in income from licensing activity (with the exclusion of IP income pertaining to the sale of spin-offs) of 38.2% from 2015 to £125.8m.

Universities reported an increase of 27.9% in granted patents from 2015, exceeding the 5-year average. Whilst the performance reported in the 2015 was below that 5-year average, it is important to note that fluctuations in patent data are partially a consequence of the time lag between application date and when the patent is granted. The numbers of spin-off companies that survived at least 3 years increased by 1.7% to 1031 in 2016, adding to the stock of high technology firms in the UK.

Resources for university business collaboration 2016

Industry income for knowledge exchange activities (excluding licensing) received by universities contracted by 0.2% in real terms, - from £958m, in 2015 to £956m - and the gross expenditure on R&D performed by universities fell by 1.8% (in real terms) from 2015. The share of investment in R&D performed by universities from foreign sources increased slightly, from £1.3bn to 1.35bn.

Knowledge flows between universities and business 2016

The share of graduates employed in innovative sectors fell to 38.6%, 0.5% lower than in 2015, and below the 5-year average. However, in terms of the numbers of graduates employed in the innovative sectors (which is a fairly tight definition) and all graduates in employment, the falls decelerated in 2016 to 2.6% and 1.8%, respectively. The share of postgraduates in employment (in work or in work and study) was 73.4% in 2016, 0.5% lower than in the previous year, but above the 5-year average.

Progress over time in 2016

As previously noted, the data collected for this version of the Monitor may represent the last to be unaffected by Brexit. The overall trend suggests that UK universities improved in the knowledge exchange activities that enabled them to capture underlying IP.

Interactions between universities and businesses clearly intensified, although with reduced financing devoted to consultancy, contract research, facilities and equipment. Gross expenditure on R&D from domestic business and foreign sources performed by universities decreased in relation to their 5-year average values.

Whilst postgraduate employment in 2016 in comparison to its 5-year average fell over the 2015 record, there was a modest improvement in performance of graduate employment in innovative sectors; however, this is mostly related to the reduced 5-year average for 2012-16.

The number of Innovate UK grants in 2016 fell below its 5-year average, although it performed significantly above its 5-year average in 2015. On the other hand, more consistently, the average size of Innovate UK grants per university continued to increase against its 5-year average.

Devolved monitors

Devolved monitors display 12 indicators tacking collaboration in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For consistency with previous reporting a 4-year average is used.


English universities experienced a decrease in industry income for knowledge exchange activities, as well as graduate employment in innovative sectors. However, English universities increased their numbers of interactions with both small and medium enterprises (7.0%) and large businesses (3.1%). Whilst average deal size with SMEs grew by nearly 3% from 2015, it shrunk by 0.5% with large businesses.

The number of Innovate UK grants awarded to English universities participating in collaborative projects decreased by nearly 24% from 2015; at the same time the value of such grants increased in line with the UK trends. The commercialisation activities of English universities improved considerably, along with a modest growth in the stock of living spin-off companies.

Northern Irish universities observed a decrease in industry income from knowledge exchange activities and a minimal change in graduate employment in innovative sectors compared to 2015.

Northern Ireland

Universities in Northern Ireland reported a considerable fall in interactions with business of all sizes since 2015 with a 1.7% decrease in the average size of the deals with large businesses. However, the average size of the deals with SMEs increased by a striking 71.4% from 2015.

The commercialisation efforts of Northern Irish universities decreased (licenses granted to businesses fell by more than 50%, whilst patents granted were 32.3% down from 2015) or stayed unchanged.


Scottish universities saw a fall in industry income from knowledge exchange activities in 2016; however they also reported a modest increase in terms of share of graduates employed in innovative sectors of the economy to 39.4%.

Scottish universities reported increases in interactions with all business sizes (43.0% with SMEs and 28.3% with large businesses) since 2015, but falls in average deal sizes (15.4% with small and medium enterprises, and 18.6% with large businesses).

Universities in Scotland saw a decrease in Innovate UK grants by a third from 2015, with a fall in the average value of such grants – contrary to the performance observed in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The commercialisation activities of Scottish universities improved in terms of patents granted, live spin-offs, and the income from licensing but the number of licenses granted to business fell by 3.6% since 2015.


Welsh universities reported a decreased share of income from large and small businesses from 2015, and a decrease in the share of graduates employed in innovative sectors.

Whilst interactions with SMEs decreased by 16.7% since 2015, interactions with large businesses increased by 7.0%. Interestingly, Welsh universities reported an 18.2% increase in the average size of a deal with small and medium enterprises, yet a 10.9% fall in the average size of a deal with large businesses.

The greatest change can be observed in Innovate UK metrics: although Welsh universities reported a modest increase in number of grants (3.6%), the average Innovate UK grant value they received doubled compared to 2015. Further improvements were observed with regards to licensing, patenting and spin-off data.


The 2018 Collaboration Progress Monitor first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB. Read the full report here.


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*Whilst data for most of the indicators is available for 2017, in order to present a consistent economic overview, 2016 data is employed, for which statistical availability was complete for all indicators considered.

**Data sources include: Higher Education-Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) Survey; (ONS) UK Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD); Destinations of Leavers in the United Kingdom (DLHE); database on Innovate UK funded projects.


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