Use universities to drive economic growth, report urges

Graphene Graphene, the ultra-thin material that won Manchester University scientists a Nobel prize. Now a report urges help for universities to turn ideas into business.

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Universities should be brought into the heart of the economy and funded to stimulate growth, a report is urging.

It says the government should put £1bn into what it calls Arrow Projects, to turn "globally competitive technological ideas into real business".

Current funding streams are too complex, argues author Sir Andrew Witty, boss of GlaxoSmithKline.

The government and the Confederation of British Industry welcomed the report.

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, described Arrow Projects as a "great idea".

Universities Minister David Willetts said the government would consider what recommendations to make following the publication.

"We know that universities are engines of innovation and have an important role to play in driving our industrial strategy," said Mr Willetts.

'Invention revolution'

The report, entitled Encouraging a British Invention Revolution, says the UK is a world leader in technology and invention, adding that "the research strength of the UK's universities in an enormous national asset".

But it warns: "We will have to work hard to maintain our position of strength in the face of increasing competition."

In his foreword, Sir Andrew writes that UK universities have "an extraordinary wealth of ideas, technology and human energy - much of which is world-leading and capable of seeding not just new companies but whole industries".

But without better-focused funding, organisation and collaboration, he says, there is a risk of delay and of "British inventions building foreign industries".

He says a "thicket of complexity" in funding "leads to unnecessary hurdles for those striving to translate ideas to job-creating businesses".

Arrow Projects are his plan for an taking ideas from "mind to factory" with a "globally competitive sense of timing and scale".

If they were successful they "could herald a British invention revolution to rival the transformation witnessed in the 19th Century," Sir Andrew writes.

He envisages the projects as large collaborations in technologically advanced fields. The partners would not necessarily be "geographically co-located", and would include a range of universities - not just leading research institutions - as well as industry, business and local and central government.

The report says the government "will need to create a new funding stream to bring the Arrow Projects into being."

Block grants

This could be composed of both public and private money, from both new or existing sources and delivered perhaps in the form of block grants which would allow project managers to use their judgement as to how it is spent, it says.

Universities and businesses would form themselves into consortiums to bid for the funding. The funding would be channelled through the lead university in each project.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "The future of the UK economy depends upon making the most of the knowledge, innovation and energy to be found in universities. This work is already happening but the report challenges us, quite rightly, to do more."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of research universities, also welcomed the proposal: "Discoveries at our world-leading, research-intensive universities have generated billions over the years.

"But it's vital for the UK's economy that groundbreaking discoveries make it all the way from idea to implementation and from prototype to profit.

"Collaboration with business is a core part of the mission of all our academics. But we need to bridge the gap and help everyone work together."

Mr Cridland added: "We also need to ensure that more mid-sized and smaller businesses benefit from the huge potential universities bring.

"A single point of entry for companies wishing to engage with universities and a sharper focus on supporting innovation in mid-sized businesses are logical first steps."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The comments in the article about innovation are fine, but the status of universities has been damaged by attempts to make them too populist.

    Universities used to be centres of excellence, but nowadays they are just businesses with far too many people being encouraged to run up huge debts studying courses that won't improve their prospects.

    The old grant system was far better than student loans!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Why do universities want a billion pounds of taxpayers money, don't they charge for their services so shouldn't they find the money themselves?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The education system is largely responsible for the shambles that this country has become and failure to actually deliver what they are supposed to is driving them to look for other "revenue streams". They must deliver their primary objective first and lets remember "those that can DO and those that can't TEACH" never has that been more true!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    @23. JohnGammon

    That isn't what I took from reading it at all - it doesn't mention that they want everybody to get on the band wagon or that people lives will be ruined if they don't.

    I does suggest that universities have a huge amount to offer in terms of future technological advances and the potential industry that surrounds it, and therefore this should be harnessed instead of ignored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    16. Gryphon

    I don't agree. The UK has the greatest talent pool in the world in my view. However, Universities are a by-product of industrial success not the cause. Most of them have been formed in the last 200 years, post industrial revolution. The key drivers of industrial revolution: Brunel, Necomen, Trevithick, Bessemer were all businessmen not academics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    schoolls uni and the hole lot r waste of thesse days

    certificiates or educaton get u now where
    just lots of debt

    allabout exp , £££ or just pure luck get jobs

    i worked hard but tachers werents interested to help

    i past maths and english , all the rests i fail

    the idea of unis to milk u for all u got

    they do no other good.this business idea is all £ driven

    my advice:
    #stay clear#

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    @ 21 you are right , we used to do this via many routes in the past and that is how the UK became a strong economic force .

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    19.uʍop ǝpısdn

    What sort of adults would be produced by your policy?
    Adults that think for themselves, in part because they have had to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Here we go - another story where universities are portrayed as some sort of international business organisation, pumping out highly skilled brainwash jobs for The Man. And every child in the country has to be told they need to get on this insane bandwagon or their lives will be ruined. In the newspeak dictionary of the 21st century, real education will soon be a lost concept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Great idea but doesn't get around the fundamental problem of corporate short termism. The majority of the time we invent/innovate and the company grows to a certain size before being bought out by a foreign company which then benefits a different nation. We need government seed investment with long term incentives to keep the company British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.


    i get sick of saying this but i have to repeat myself again. FUND science and space exploration as this inspires younger generation to take up STEM fields and it is THOSE people that enable the world of tomorrow to happen, they are the drivers of economy and without it, we might as well just slide back to the caves as that is where we are heading

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I am all for developing innovative ideas into business success, the case of Dyson suggests we are not the best in the world at doing so. I am not sure that government funding is necessary or desirable, closer links between businesses, large and small, and innovative universities is the way forward with a continual flow of ideas and research in both directions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @9 fuzzy
    "Give kids computers with access to WWW and they'll educate themselves, kids love discovering stuff - it's fun"

    Give kids a computer they'll choose to play GTA and Call of Duty.

    "Discovering stuff" will not be as much fun as just shooting everything in sight.

    Without school, there will be no real world social interaction.

    What sort of adults would be produced by your policy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This is an obvious idea and one that should have been adopted decades ago. However , once the invention / idea has been perfected it will probably end up being manufactured in China and will only benefit the rich investors and not working Britain apart from as being a commodity they will purchase.

  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.


    The US has had great innovation but you forget the UK had great innovation through the end of the 19th century and the 20th century , we were world leaders and this came from academic innovation coupled with entrepreneurship. Indeed the link between academic innovation has been strong in the UK for the last 500 years .

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    two points, one is interesting and the other is a typical comment.
    1.Universities brought into economy by the government who are all rich toffs, so their kids can get off easy?
    2.What difference would any of this make? i mean kids have gone to universities, studied hard for a few years then get what they want and what happens? like the rest, unemployed and trying to find a job. so this helps, how?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Regarding blue sky and sand pits. I work in technology (industry) and we regularly augment our research with university collaboration. They assist in simulation, behaviour modelling and system analysis. This is not blue sky, it is real work that has a genuine impact. Anything that makes this easier is worthy. Will it help drive an economy, yes, but by how much is probably a better question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    If you look at the US with great innovation, block grants to Universities are not the way to do it, you already have something called platform grants in the UK and they don't achieve business success. You need a better tax regime to encourage start ups. Most new businesses (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc.) have key people who drive them on
    most of whom seem to be University drop outs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This is a great idea. I have worked in several universities in the UK and exactly as this articles says, we have great research producing great inventions, but a really bad system for turning these inventions into business. Just look at graphene - it was invented in the UK - and yet we only have a handful of patents with most filed by Korea, China and the US.


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