16 October 2013 11:28

A Government commissioned independent review of how universities should work with businesses to underpin economic growth has confirmed Lancaster University’s strong focus on SME engagement and collaborative research is the right approach.

Lancaster University welcomes the publication of the full report of Sir Andrew Witty’s ‘Encouraging a British Invention Revolution’, which has concluded that universities need to focus on working closely with SMEs, as well as making economic growth a top priority.

Sir Andrew’s review also recommended universities engage with Local Enterprise Partnerships to link with local businesses in research and development. As well as leading on collaborative research programmes that would develop technologies to give UK businesses a competitive advantage in global markets.

Professor Andrew Atherton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor from Lancaster University, said: “We welcome the report by Sir Andrew Witty as it confirms the many ways in which Lancaster University is working with businesses, as well as our fundemental role in the key knowledge clusters driving the competitiveness of the UK economy.

“Businesses are the driving-force of the economy and we agree with Sir Andrew that close collaboration with universities like ours will deliver significant impacts that create growth, jobs and raise exports regionally and nationally.”

Lancaster University is a leading research university in the UK - as evidenced by successive assessments of its research - that works closely with businesses to both generate and apply research insights and discoveries. Lancaster has worked with over 5,000 SMEs since 1999. It has also helped the creation of over 250 new business and more than 4,000 new jobs.

Sir Andrew Witty’s report highlights Lancaster’s national strength in key clusters of competitiveness in nuclear and energy, agri-tech and science, and oil and gas. The report also identifies Lancaster as a top ten university in terms of the number of interactions with SMEs.

A significant majority of this work has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Lancaster continues to devise novel ways to work in collaboration with businesses of all sizes. It is working, along with the University of Liverpool and technology commercialisation company Inventya Ltd, in partnership with 50 SMEs as part of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation, which is helping businesses to research and develop environmental products and services through graduate researchers. The centre, which is the only one of its kind in Europe, exemplifies one of Sir Andrew’s recommendations for LEPs to work together in partnership with higher education institutions, such as Lancaster, beyond their own boundaries.

“We are proud of the long-standing track record of Lancaster, which sets us as one of the UK’s top universities with respect to the number and value of collaborations with SMEs,” said Professor Atherton. “We are continually looking to develop new, better and creative methods of engaging with UK SMEs to boost innovation and competitiveness. Our latest initiatives aim to more readily exploit the global reach of the university for the benefit of UK companies, particularly in China, a factor which Sir Andrew’s review makes clear recommendation for universities to do more.”

As Sir Andrew recommends, Lancaster University is also working hard to exploit its global reach and contacts for the benefit of UK SMEs through projects like the China Catalyst project. With more than £5m of funding, this new project aims to develop collaborative research projects between UK and Chinese companies to create programmes of innovation in small businesses to develop new products and services for export. This project is forecast to create 240 jobs within UK SMEs and boost the UK economy by £40 million.

Lancaster University Management School works closely with hundreds of SMEs to improve leadership skills and is one of the leading academic institutions in the UK for the number of SMEs it works with. It does this in a variety of ways, for example a recent report has shown that the Lancaster University Management School’s Leading Enterprise and Development (LEAD) programme, which is run by the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development, has increased the productivity and sales of 250 local companies and LEAD is also boosting the performance of SMEs in other areas of the UK after being rolled out in London, Cheltenham and South Wales.

In an independent evaluation, alumni of the LEAD programme reported post-programme mean annual turnover growth rates of 13.8%, employment growth of 16.8%, with 70% reporting profit increase, and 65% reporting productivity increase. Participants collectively employ an additional 3,315 staff each year. Evaluation data show that approximately 68% of sales growth is attributed to the programme by survey respondents.

The Management School also has close links with the Lancashire LEP and recently launched the Lancashire Forum, a business leadership programme run as part of the LEP’s Boost Business Lancashire hub.

Lancaster works with businesses on collaborative research projects across a wide range of sectors, important to the region and more widely, a key focus for the review which specifically highlights Lancaster’s research excellence underpinning the nuclear, oil and gas and food industires.

Sir Andrew’s review also highlights Lancaster’s efforts to co-locate companies directly alongside academic research. The Lancaster Environment Centre and InfoLab21 are both home to companies in dedicated facilities, providing close access to teams of academics, researchers and graduates.

For more information about how Lancaster University works with businesses visit http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/business/

For more information on the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation visit www.cgeinnovation.org/

More information about LEAD is available at http://www.lums.lancs.ac.uk/departments/Entrep/