Firms report university partnership success

Dr Phil Extance
Dr Phil Extance, Pro Vice Chancellor for Business Partnerships & Knowledge Transfer
13 June 2011

New research uncovers depth of relationship between higher education and SMEs in the Midlands.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the Midlands have worked with a university or higher education institution (HEI) in the past year, according to research published today by the Institute of Directors and Universities UK. The research, part of Universities Week 2011, reveals wide ranging engagement driving innovation and employment as well as boosting local economies.

The leading programme in Europe that is helping businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base is Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP). Since August 2010, Aston University itself has been involved in 19 Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP’s). This has involved work with 13 different companies across the public and private sector including E.On, Tata Motors, and BBR Optometry.

This commitment to liaising and providing support to business has seen Aston place as the 2nd highest provider of KTP’s in the West Midlands and at 12th nationally for KTP’s according to the Government’s Technology Strategy Board.

KTP’s provide businesses with access to university expertise, including academic consultancy and qualified graduate placements, allowing business to develop new products, services and processes. CASE awards provide businesses with a dedicated top quality researcher to focus on an industrially focussed research project for a three year period. Each researcher is supervised by a leading academic from a relevant technical area.

Dr Phil Extance, Pro Vice Chancellor for Business Partnerships & Knowledge Transfer, said; "Aston University has a track record of carrying out exploitable research that is readily translated from an academic world into real products and services and that provides a catalyst to businesses to do thing differently.  Bringing together the knowledge base of university academics and research students with the real challenges faced by businesses definitely yields new solutions and new insights.”

Nationally, UK universities have collectively delivered 3.7million days of Continuing Professional Development courses with 43% attending lectures, conferences and public events; 15% working with universities to personally undertake professional development; and 8% using them to provide bespoke professional development for their employees.

Close working with universities on the employment pool also emerged as a trend with 28% of those surveyed in the Midlands employing recent graduates or post-graduates;18% offering work experience opportunities or sandwich placements; 11% offering formal internships for undergraduates, graduates or post-graduates; and 11% even working on live business projects as part of a course.

Miles Templeman, Director General of the Institute of Directors, said:
“This research uncovers an ever-growing network of universities and small businesses delivering genuine innovation on the frontline of British business. We hear all the time of exceptional ways that smaller companies are working closely with universities to mutual benefit. It’s good for our members, good for universities and good for the economy. We want to see these relationships grow even stronger.”

The research also shows positive experiences for businesses in the Midlands working with universities, with 68% viewing the impact of their links as positive or very positive; 46% finding the impact significant or very significant in terms of delivering their business objectives; and 35% viewing their businesses’ current links with universities as strong or very strong.

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