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£1 billion needed to back invention revolution led by universities, report says

Universities should be at the tip of a new British invention revolution turning ideas into job creating businesses to help boost the UK economy, a new Government-commissioned report argues.

The Government should provide £1 billion of funding -- either new money or taken from existing schemes -- to back new "Arrow Projects" to develop cutting edge technologies or inventions where Britain leads the world, headed by universities working in collaboration with local enterprise councils and SMEs.

The report from Sir Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline, calls for a major review of the "opaque" research funding system, developing a one stop shop for funding rather than the multiple and complex arrangements that exist.

To encourage universities to develop their "third stream" of activity working with and supporting business and industry the Higher Education Innovation Fund should rise from £160 million to £250 million a year, and the impact weighting in the Research Assessment Framework should be increased to 25 per cent in the next REF, it suggests.

The report, Encouraging a British Invention Revolution, recognises that the UK is a world leader in technology and innovations and in higher education. But to punch above its weight in turning inventions into successful businesses it needs to make funding more accessible and find new ways to get business and industry and academia working more closely together.

The proposed Arrow Projects would by clustered around sectors and technologies such as quantum computing rather than regions, and could be backed by private as well as public funding.

Sir Andrew said: “This country leads the world in many cutting-edge technologies and inventions. But too often we fail to turn these great ideas into successful companies that create jobs.

“Our universities are key to changing this. They are already a major competitive advantage for the country and I believe we could do more to maximise this. This report sets out how we can make better use of the ideas they create and working with other institutions how they can convert those into jobs here which support an export
led economy.” 

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “The report recognises the many ways in which universities drive economic growth, from engagement with SMEs, working in partnership with local enterprise partnerships and business, to cutting-edge research. 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, and outlines several significant ways in which this might be made to happen.”

Commenting on the recommendations, Professor Michael Gunn, Chair of the university think-tank million+ and Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University welcomed the proposed increase in HEIF funding but questioned whether Arrow projects were the best way to invest an additional £1bn.

"This money is undoubtedly needed but in an increasingly complex funding landscape, there may be an equally valid case to deploy additional resources on translational research which can respond to new and emerging markets and services that often radically change the industrial and business landscape in a very short space of
time," he said.

Professor Angus Laing, Chair of the Association of Business Schools and Dean of Business and Economics at Loughborough University, said the report highlighted the important role  business schools can play in driving forward the economy.

"We need to position business schools as ‘translators of invention’, as agents of innovation and growth in the business and policy communities," he said.

 Universities minister David Willetts said the Government would now consider the report's recommendations and "respond more fully in time".

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