The returns of HEIF are clear, with £9.70 generated for every £1 invested, and universities argue that it will play a crucial role in them meeting the government’s goal of raising the knowledge exchange income to £5bn a year by 2025.
One of the great strengths of HEIF is the flexibility it provides to rapidly put “feet on the ground” to respond to new needs, meet new challenges and to take advantage of new opportunities. Galvanising partnerships to secure investment of European Structural and Investment Funds and underpinning the development of Local Enterprise Partnerships (for example through secondments) are just two indications of the value of HEIF funds. Some universities are now using HEIF funding to work with businesses to develop Degree Apprenticeships to meet crucial skills needs and others are working with local partners to develop proposals for Science and Innovation Audits. Without HEIF funding universities would not be able to respond so quickly and effectively to such challenges.
The range of activities that HEIF supports is impressive. The work by PACEC shows that opportunities to attend events and networks were valued by business as much as if not more than development of products, processes and intellectual property. The value of HEIF extends beyond start-ups to include improved business management and skills. It is not just business that is the focus of HEIF activity. Staff development in universities is a key activity and more often than not students are supported alongside staff to increase their links with businesses to develop their enterprise skills and to become more creative and innovative. Universities are also using HEIF to deliver results in innovative ways, setting up companies to deliver particular services and projects with the aim of becoming self-sufficient. This breadth of activity is best illustrated by highlighting examples of real activities and initiatives at universities:
The University of Lincoln has established new schools of Chemistry and Mathematics and Physics with businesses integrated into every stage of their development. They have also established a Leadership and Management Centre to provide for business skills development. Their award-winning incubation centre Enterprise@Lincoln provides a gateway onto campus for employers and is operated as a business in its own right.
Keele University has used HEIF to develop collaborative links between companies on its Science and Innovation Park and academic staff at the university. Keele has 4 established Innovation Centres, the Nova business incubation centre and a 5th Innovation Centre opening in 2016.
The University of Sheffield is using HEIF to deliver its Innovation, Impact and Knowledge Exchange strategy, a key element of which is engagement with its City Region. In particular, the University was invited by the Sheffield City Region (SCR) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to form and Chair its Science and Innovation Board to influence the strategic direction of the region, and support growth and economic impact in areas that depend on science-led innovation including the establishment of the UK’s first Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation District.
The University of Greenwich has used HEIF to establish a proof-of-concept fund to bridge the gap between research and application, funding projects that improve the commercial potential of university research and forge links with industry users who can take research ideas into the commercialisation phase. Several successful R&D collaborations have been formed as a result to exploit new technologies in fields such as drug delivery, crop protection, mobile telecommunications and food safety. Since the fund was established in 2009, the University has leveraged a further £10m in grant and research contract funding as a result of the new collaborations formed.
At Coventry University, as well as developing niche areas of research that enable staff to work with businesses on global economic and social challenges, the University are investing in social enterprise. A new Social Enterprise Community Interest Company has been established that currently supports 30 social enterprises formed by staff, students and alumni, which in turn has leveraged a further £200k of investment
The University of Hull has established an award winning Enterprise Centre that provides a comprehensive range of services to staff, students and business. It co-ordinates business advice and support, skills development and support for start-up companies. All students regardless of the subject they study or their level of study can take advantage of the courses and advice that the Centre offers.
These issues were explored at the Universities UK conference ‘Universities, communities and business: Collaborating to drive growth and power innovation‘ on 27 April.