Universities as interactive partners in systems of innovation
Our universities are key institutions at the heart of our innovation ecosystem. The challenge for the Big Innovation Centre is to consider how to sustain and further develop the UK's current position in a world where the quality of the system is now seen as a priority by almost every OECD economy and where major corporations have unprecedented choice between competing centres of excellence.
We need to get a better grip on what has worked for universities specialising in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, for example in terms of spin-out and licensing agreements. We also need to study how universities themselves are building networks of global significance.
Our work aims to reflect the heterogeneity of UK universities in terms of features including history, size, regional ties, research intensity and entrepreneurial culture, and how this impacts their integration into wider innovation networks. Different types of university play very different roles in the UK innovation and investment ecosystem. We need to support excellence across our system. We also need to research how flexible policies can embrace variety as different universities solve different problems.
We are very aware that there is limited understanding of the role of the users or adopters of university knowledge – the demand side of the university-industry relationship. We are working to better understand the strategic challenges and experiences businesses face when adopting knowledge from the academic research base and identify latent demand that needs to be met.
Finally, previous research has concentrated on the STEM disciplines. We have limited understanding of how non-STEM knowledge – from a diverse range of disciplines including art, economics, law, philosophy and linguistics – flows from the academic research base into use by industry.
- How can universities sustain their international lead and develop world-class international networks across the globe?
- How can policies embrace the variety of UK universities (which have different aspirations and solve different problems) so that the UK innovation and investment ecosystem can be strengthened locally as well as globally?
- What are the obstacles in the innovation and investment ecosystem that affect university research and knowledge transfer performance? How can we eliminate such inefficiencies?
- How does knowledge from the academic research base transfer from non-STEM disciplines into the wider economy?
We will be working alongside our partner universities and businesses as well as funding councils and groups of SMEs to understand these challenges and to consider what could help us to better embed our universities as true interactive partners at the heart of our innovation ecosystem.