Research England: Universities delivering the Industrial Strategy

Higher education sector overview of the plans of universities to use additional Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) allocations

Executive summary

Purpose of report:  This report summarises uses of Industrial Strategy (IS) uplift allocations through Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) and IS related developments in universities, based on evidence from plans for HEIF submitted to Research England. 

Evidence:  Universities submitted plans in Spring 2018.  These were intended to flow from long-term institutional knowledge exchange (KE) strategies that had been approved prior to any announcement on the IS. Universities had limited time to draw up plans in context of a number of funding and policy announcements, including finalisation of the IS by Government. Plans are therefore focussed primarily on inputs not impacts. Many universities noted that they intended to develop their plans for use of HEIF further in light of experience of the rollout of the IS, particularly the opportunities to tap into follow on funds for large scale R&D projects and sources of support for their business partners.   Data is limited to references to KE expenditure items, and we will collect detailed expenditure breakdowns in Spring 2019 and may update this paper. HEIF is very often used to leverage other funds and hence influences larger scale expenditures, reflected in this report in case studies on co-investments of various sorts.

Commercialisation:  The uses of the IS uplift focus particularly on commercialisation, which we define as technology transfer and all forms of working with businesses.  We believe that the IS uplift has been used appropriately to support the commercialisation system and its various processes. This includes support for the specific inter-actions between the university and individual businesses, and with the various partnerships and centres – local, industrial, technological and international – that form the commercialisation system. The use of the IS uplift by individual universities though will vary, reflecting that specific approaches to commercialisation reflect institutional characteristics and environments.

Use of Industrial Strategy uplift by main expenditure categories and change over time:  Use of the IS uplift appears to have been focussed more on projects expenditures, compared to past, core HEIF uses.  This likely reflects that there was a non-recurrent IS allocation in 2017-18, and that many universities are still experimenting with their IS approaches. There seems significant expenditures on additional KE professional capacity, with some expenditures on academic costs and major KE centres.  There are some dynamic adapters who have put in place rapid plans to seize other opportunities unfolding from the IS, such as the IS Challenge Fund (ISCF). Some smaller specialist institutions have taken innovative, new directions, particularly linking creativity and technology.  Many universities have though initially focussed on existing strengths, and are experimenting and will review plans over next years.

KE professional capacity:  Universities are investing in new IS dedicated posts and teams with responsibilities that include leadership and strategy and partnership and bid development. This includes capacity to disseminate IS intelligence, such as between national and local innovation communities. There is also significant investment to build up professional capacity in critical IS related areas, notably technology transfer and corporate R&D partnering.  There is widespread enhancement of commercialisation capacity across the HE sector, including in HEIs with less track record in this area. Approaches vary according to the maturity and scale of commercialisation activity in the particular institution, with a range from putting in place technology transfer expertise for the first time, through to specialist staffing for access to finance or technology acceleration.  Capacity focussed on place features in many plans of all types of universities, focussed on either developing proximate connections in an entrepreneurial ecosystem, or delivering the anchor role, the purposive pursuit of local and community benefits for the university's place.  Many plans feature posts to further activities of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and its Councils, such as support for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

Project expenditures:  Uses of the IS uplift for projects are similarly focussed on commercialisation, including significant use for partnering events and networks and pump-priming of projects that academics are developing with industrial partners. There is also significant projects expenditures on scoping of institutional developments that can deliver IS, for example, planning incubators, skills analyses or R&D marketing studies. The IS uplift is often used in combination with national and local sources, including with funds of other UKRI councils and to further local industrial strategies, across R&D, enterprise and skills.  There is significant use of the IS uplift for non-staff (as well as staff) technology transfer costs, such as costs of intellectual property exploitation, new company formation, acceleration and access to finance.

Academics and centres: There is some experimentation in new academic posts and secondments, as well as training and development in entrepreneurship. There is also expenditures of all types on a great range of R&D and innovation centres, clusters and the like, across many different technologies.

Embedding Industrial Strategy in HE strategies: Awareness of the IS, its policies and priorities, is reasonably embedded across HEIF plans, beyond the specific IS uplift section, with plans addressing both the Ideas and People chapters.

Industrial Strategy strategic stakeholders/place: There is evidence of awareness, alignment and co-investment of the IS uplift with UKRI priorities.  There has been particularly significant increase in awareness of the role of Innovate UK, with awareness rising from around 20% of the HE sector in 2012 HEIF evidence, to around three-quarters of the sector making reference now.  Connections with local partners and developments are the most common feature though in plans, and across a diversity of HEIs. Generally, the local dimension is important in uses of IS uplift funds and wider HEIF plans because of the acceleration in commercialisation that can be achieved through close proximity – the entrepreneurial eco-system, as well as the important anchor role of universities.

Industrial Strategy sectors: Large, multi-disciplinary universities give only high-level information on priority sectors due to text limits to the plan template.  Smaller HEIs have referenced their key technology focus areas.  References to health related and digital and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors are most prevalent.

Collaboration: Collaborations between HEIs feature widely in plans, and are of various forms, including local, industrial and technological linkages and HE-HE good practice sharing.  Our Connecting Capability Fund (CCF) programme is an important vehicle, featured in plans, for driving good practice in commercialisation.

Conclusions and observations: Overall, uses of the IS uplift all appear highly relevant to the priorities of the IS Ideas chapter.  Research England is assured by the evidence provided that funds have been used for purposes intended and that universities are focussing appropriately on IS delivery.  Place related partnering of various sorts to deliver IS is particularly important, and across a great range of universities. There is also evidence of good awareness and partnering with the various councils and programmes of UKRI. We have some concerns that capacity constraints may emerge over next years in specialist areas of commercialisation support, and that we must remain focussed on supporting the HE sector in good practice developments. We see some potential gaps in activity, for example, in international links and mobility. We do expect to see further, more rapid and more widespread progress in IS delivery, including evidence of impacts from funding, in the next round of strategies and plans that we will seek from HEIs in 2019-20.