Universities need bigger role in growth, says Witty

Universities should play a bigger role in driving growth and should be more accessible to smaller businesses, according to a government-commissioned review.

The initial findings of Sir Andrew Witty’s independent review of universities and growth have been published today.

Sir Andrew, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline and chancellor of the University of Nottingham, has set out the themes he will explore when he publishes the full report later this year.

“Throughout my initial findings it has become clear that universities are essential to driving economic growth, but that there is scope for them to play a bigger role,” Sir Andrew said.

“My final report will aim to ensure that our world leading universities and research base are at the heart of local growth strategies, building on areas of existing local strength.”

In his report, Sir Andrew says that identifying “sectoral” strengths – be that in agri-tech, IT or other areas – should be the starting point for developing plans for regional growth.

“I contrast this with regional growth policy in recent decades which has tended to take this or that particular geographical unit as a starting point,” he says.

The final report will consider exactly how universities and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) – created after the coalition government’s decision to scrap regional development agencies – should collaborate.

But Sir Andrew says in his initial report that universities “have a strength and weight that LEPs lack” thanks to their alumni, overseas reach and business engagement.

“Many of the evidence submissions have described the contribution universities have already made, from sitting on LEP boards – which should be the norm in my view – to drafting LEP plans,” he adds.

On small- and medium-sized enterprises, Sir Andrew says he has seen “a wide range of examples of very successful practice in making university research and advice accessible to SMEs”.

But he adds: “I have also seen evidence that SMEs find universities difficult to engage with, often because SMEs lack the time to work out how they can make effective contact.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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