The race is on and the UK’s sights are set to making it to the top! At least this is Lord Sainsbury’s message in the long awaited report to the UK government at the end of last week. As he said:
We should seek to compete with emerging economies in a ‘race to the top’ rather than ‘a race to the bottom’.
The Race to the Top: A Review of Government’s Science and Innovation Policies examines the role of science and technology in ensuring that the UK not only remains globally competitive, but that it learns to run faster.
The UK government’s response was to announce its intention to invest £1 billion into programmes to boost business innovation and applied research over the next three years. This programme will be led by the Technology Strategy Board, set up in 2004.
One focus of the Government’s new Innovation Programme which is of interest to universities will be to give more support through the Higher Education Innovation Fund to business-facing universities, setting targets for knowledge transfer from Research Councils, doubling the number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, and extending these to Further Education Colleges.
Universities are located in the services sector in this kind of analysis – and governments are increasingly interested in what value they can add in this race to the top. Lord Sainsbury is also optimistic:
The UK is well placed to take advantage of the new markets opened up by globalisation. We have an extraordinary record of scientific discovery and a rapidly growing share of high technology manufacturing and knowledge intensive services in the UK’s GDP. The amount of knowledge transfer from British universities has increased significantly and we are beginning to see the growth of exciting high technology clusters around many of our world-class research universities.
GlobalHigherEd has been carrying a number of stories on universities and innovation. We also note today an announcement in the Guardian that the ESRC are funding a three year £3 million study led by Ursula Kelly at the University of Strathclyde on universities and regional systems of innovation.
These developments will present universities with interesting challenges, not least because many academics see such close links to the economy as distorting the overall function of the university. That aside, the challenge also facing the UK is that the others seriously in the race, particularly US based firms, are investing even more heavily in R & D according to the EC’s innovation scoreboard of the 1,000 companies. So, while the race is on, getting to the top is also going to be tough.