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Market success for university research
7 July 2014
Tuesday 1st July – Letter to The Independent
The recent success of Imperial College in realising £10m cash in exchange for a 10 per cent share holding in Imperial Innovations shows the continued market interest in the commercialisation of university research (report, 24 June).
However, the availability of investment funds for promising university spin-outs will not on its own deliver the economic impact that the UK might expect from its world-class research base.
For commercialisation to thrive it is vital that the UK invests appropriately in the entire pipeline of development, from early-phase frontier research through to technology development and thereafter commercialisation.
However, there is evidence that the UK is failing to do so. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2012 Britain invested 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product in research and development, the lowest percentage in Europe, and some way from the 3 per cent achieved in the US in the 1950s.
There is plenty of evidence that commercialisation of university research can deliver returns, but only if it is approached as a long-term investment. But the good news is that investment in university research not only fuels innovation but also sustains and underpins our world-class higher education sector, which in turn delivers a more immediate economic return.
According to a recent report from Universities UK, the higher education sector delivers some £73bn to GDP, £10bn in exports and more than 750,000 jobs.
Although funding and investment are essential ingredients for continued academic and economic success from UK higher education, money alone will not suffice. We must imbue a much greater sense of ambition in our university communities, so that we can not only create the successful companies of the future, but we have the confidence to grow them so that they can provide employment and tax revenues for future generations of UK citizens.
Professor Stephen Caddick, Vice-Provost (Enterprise), UCL