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HE 'needs targeted government support' to help it respond to Covid-19 crisis

Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations for the Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD), reviews a week of higher education news in which concerns emerged over universities’ financial stability due to Covid-19 and the impact of the crisis on students.

Higher education events postponed or shifted online as pandemic bites

A growing number of higher education conferences and events are being postponed or moved online in response to the Coronavirus restrictions.

Universities take centre stage in the fight against Covid-19

Amid predictions that higher education will be changed forever by the current pandemic, Professor James Miller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, suggests the innovative ways the sector is responding to the crisis will make it even more valued in the future.

New norms highlight the value of scientific experts and research collaboration

The current crisis has underlined the critical role played by the UK’s experts and researchers and the institutions supporting them, as well as the need for collaboration between them, says Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business.

Gateway to university expertise now provides 'smart match' with business

A platform providing a single access point for businesses to university expertise and funding opportunities has been further developed by the National Centre for Universities and Business, Research England, and UK Research and Innovation, to help 'smart match' business and industry with higher education institutions, in a bid to boost R&D collaboration. Shivaun Meehan, Head of Communications at the NCUB, outlines the latest features of Konfer.


How do you feed the growing global population safely and sustainably, when we are living longer, in a changing climate?  Answers welcomed on a postcard? While I don’t have the answers, collective wisdom says old approaches are unlikely to work and the challenges facing society and industry today will more likely be addressed through investment in research and innovation.

The government’s Industrial Strategy set the UK an R&D investment ambition of 2.4 per cent of national income by 2027. It's a big ambition and the UK has a long way to go. Regardless of the direction of the current political winds it is worth noting that the universities and science minister, Chris Skidmore, in his foreword to the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) State of the Relationship report, said that the agility with which our universities and innovative businesses cross-pollinate will be key to achieving this target. The NCUB supports these ambitions and the role of our universities and innovative business in finding solutions. Which is why we promote, support and champion university business collaborations.

Government reviews as well as businesses cite the difficulties and barriers to accessing experts and finding a way through the winding paths and many doors of UK universities. The NCUB has addressed this with a simple idea: to provide one single access point to the wealth of knowledge within UK academia. The latest release of Konfer provides the single point with easy access to experts, research, grant funding opportunities, university equipment and facilities, and UK businesses likely to be interested in innovation.

Developed, operated and managed by the NCUB and in partnership with Research England and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Konfer is free to use. Its alpha and beta test releases proved the concept that the wealth of material available across the UK could be brought into one place. The latest release uses machine learning and natural language processing to give even easier access to the host of information across 23 industry sectors in the UK. More than a million research papers, expert profiles and other data assets now incorporate topic and concept analysis, enabling unique search and discovery capabilities. An enhanced user experience facilitates Konfer’s expanded capability connecting industry and academia.

We are also excited by the latest addition to Konfer’s data set. The business directory includes businesses of all sizes from around the UK. Using konfer categories they can also be searched and filtered using a number of criteria. Using public data Konfer has so far incorporated over 27,000 companies that we believe are likely to benefit from opportunities in relation to innovation grant funding and/or university collaboration, which is why we also include details of company research activities, including grant funded research, where available.

Konfer is not just a static data set that can be intelligently interrogated. It also pushes out business-led collaboration opportunities to all UK universities and is now processing university led collaborations to ‘smart-match’ with sections of the business directory. Recent opportunities have ranged from a healthcare start-up, through an open innovation call from Severn Trent, to a £3 million grant fund from the Rail Safety and Standards Board. Any registered user can create new opportunities and respond to those already published.

While Konfer is looking good, we want it to be even better, and even more features are in the pipeline - including an expanded funding module to promote more of the R&D funding opportunities available in the UK and improved user dashboards. All our development features aim to maximise engagement between universities and business, who together will build a more innovative and inclusive future for the UK.