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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.
The pandemic has caused significant disruption to many universities' activities that help to drive innovation in the economy, with Nearly 90 per cent warning that many innovation projects have been delayed,according to a report on a survey from the National Centre for Universities and Business.
Findings from the survey of 61 institutions show that during the first national lockdown 88 per cent of universities found a 'significant proportion' (more than 10 per cent) of their innovationprojects had been delayed, while nearly half (48 per cent) reported that the scale and scope of projects were being reduced.
More than a third (36 per cent) of universities saw more than 10 per cent of their innovation activities and projects with external partners being cancelled, and approachinghalf (45 per cent) saw declines of at least a 6 per cent in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners.
Activities in strategic sectors such as aerospace and automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries are reportedly much more adversely affected. A lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the current inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue are reasons behind these changes. Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said: "Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled."
Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the new University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said: "The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems.
"This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK's longer-term competitiveness in key sectors."
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