Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
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Give universities bigger role in growing economy: Witty

Encouraging a British invention revolution: Sir Andrew Witty's review of universities and growth was published yesterday

A new British Invention Revolution turning ideas into job creating businesses is needed to help rebalance the UK economy and boost manufacturing, a new report published today said.

Sir Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a leading science and innovation company and one of the UK’s major employers, was commissioned by the government to examine how universities can better support economic growth and drive exports.

Published yesterday (15 October 2013) his report, Encouraging a British Invention Revolution, recognises that the UK is a world leader in technology and inventions and has some of the best universities in the world. But in order to punch its weight internationally in turning inventions into successful businesses, the report says we need to simplify complex funding streams and charge universities with a greater role in delivering economic growth.

He said:

This country leads the world in many cutting-edge technologies and inventions. But too often we fail to turn these great ideas into successful companies that create jobs.

Our universities are key to changing this. They are already a major competitive advantage for the country and I believe we could do more to maximise this. This report sets out how we can make better use of the ideas they create and working with other institutions how they can convert those into jobs here which support an export led economy.

The report proposes that “Arrow Projects” – cutting edge technologies or inventions where we lead the world – are created with universities at their tip, while local and national resources such as the Technology Strategy Board and UK Trade & Industry (UKTI) are lined up behind them to create the maximum economic benefit and to support export led growth.

These collaborative projects would not be limited by postcode or narrow locations, but instead by technologies such as quantum computing, which offers revolutionary advances in computer capability. Sir Andrew calls on the government to back Arrow Projects with £1 billion of funding, either new money or through the redirection of money from existing schemes. And by ensuring a one stop shop for funding rather than the multiple and complex applications that currently exist. In addition, he says universities should better support fast growing, innovation rich SMEs which have the potential to break into global markets and supply chains.

The report has been handed to the government, who have welcomed the review and will make a further, more detailed response in due course.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

I would like to thank Sir Andrew for his review and appreciate his perspective as a global business leader who bases a large proportion of his work in the UK.

We know that universities are engines of innovation and have an important role to play in driving our industrial strategy. We are already making strides to help commercialise the work done by universities under the Eight Great Technologies, which will help this country accelerate ahead in the global race. We will now consider the recommendations and respond more fully in time.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

The report recognises the many ways in which universities drive economic growth, from engagement with SMEs, working in partnership with local enterprise partnerships and business, to cutting-edge research. The future of the UK economy depends upon making the most of the knowledge, innovation and energy to be found in universities. This work is already happening but the report challenges us, quite rightly, to do more, and outlines several significant ways in which this might be made to happen.

Notes to editors:

  1. Sir Andrew is Chief Executive of GSK and the lead independent director at the department for Business, Innovation and Skills. His report was announced in the Budget by the Chancellor.

  2. The main focus of Sir Andrew’s Review has been on England. However the report draws on approaches being taken in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and it is recognised that aspects of policy in relation to universities, funding for innovation, and business support in the UK are devolved while others are retained. It is expected that the recommendations will be of interest to the devolved administrations.

  3. Sir Andrew Witty was supported in his review by seven independent expert advisors. They were:

  • Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University.
  • Professor David Greenaway DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham and Member of the Nottingham Growth Board
  • Professor Graham Henderson CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Teesside University, Board Member of Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Professor Dame Julia King, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, Board Member of Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Professor Wendy Purcell, Vice-Chancellor and President of Plymouth University, Board Member of Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Board Member of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Colin Skellett OBE, Chair of West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and Executive Chair of Wessex Water.

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