A major new report from the Higher Education sector was launched this week proposing the UK unleashes the levelling-up potential of its world-leading universities to attract greater international inward investment into local innovation clusters.
The report, developed in partnership with Midlands Innovation, comes as the Government announced that it has supported a trail-blazing pilot in the Midlands with nearly £0.5m of funding this year.
The Universities as drivers of trade and investment – Midlands Pilot has been developed by a coalition of 17 universities and partners including the Midlands Engine Partnership, Midlands Enterprise Universities and is led by Midlands Innovation and hosted by the University of Nottingham.
The Pilot is helping identify and develop R&D investment propositions involving universities from across the region. It focuses on sectors where the region’s universities have research and innovation strengths and expertise that, when combined, are genuinely world-leading. These include transport technologies, agri-food, zero-carbon energy, health and life sciences and the creative and digital industries.
The team delivering the pilot is working with Government officials and the Science and Innovation Network in four target markets (Australia, Germany, Singapore and South Korea) to explore the practicalities of promoting these opportunities to major international investors in R&D and help shape new policies and approaches.
It is being co-funded by the region’s universities, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities through their support of the Midlands Engine Partnership.
Other elements of the pilot are also exploring how universities can work with Midlands partners to leverage their global connections to support local trade, investment and visitor economy priorities.
Unlocking the enormous potential for international students and graduates to support SMEs through a region-wide placement scheme focused on trade and export projects is also an area of focus.
Dr Helen Turner, Director of Midlands Innovation, said: “This report builds on the trail-blazing universities as drivers of trade and investment pilot led by universities and our partners in the Midlands and supported by Government.
“It highlights the invaluable role universities already play in attracting high-quality inward investment outside of the London and the South East to grow the clusters of innovation that will ultimately help level-up those regional economies.
“We particularly welcome the recommendation that universities should work collaboratively to ‘hunt in packs’ by scaling-up their strengths, ambitions and offer to investors. Midlands Innovation is proud to have developed and host the Pilot and will continue to share emergent findings from the programme with universities and policymakers from across the UK.”
Roger Mendonca, CEO of the Midlands Engine Partnership, said: “The Midlands Engine Partnership welcomes this important report and its recommendations. Inward investment is crucial to the economic growth of the Midlands, and our Universities have a great opportunity to attract even more of the quality investment that creates high-skilled jobs and ensures our region remains a globally competitive hotbed of innovation.
“We understand the value of collective action and will support our partners in building upon this report’s recommendations, recognising our universities’ combined strengths and the role they can play in growth strategies, through our continued support of the Universities as Drivers of Trade and Investment project.”
Announcing the report, George Freeman MP, Minister for Innovation at the Department of Science Innovation & Technology said: “The UK ranks 4th in the world rankings for Innovation. Research Universities are the jewels in the crown of our R+D economy: laying the foundations for a new era of UK innovation and prosperity in all parts of the UK.
“From training world class researchers to breakthrough science in world class labs, high growth spinouts & industry collaborations, UK Universities are key to the UK Innovation Economy and our global role as a Science Superpower.”
Lord Johnson of Lainston CBE, Minister for Investment at the Department for Business and Trade, also welcomed the publication of the report and said: “By boosting innovation and attracting the world’s brightest minds to the UK, our unrivalled universities are the engine driving record levels of overseas investment into the UK.
“With government working alongside universities, our world-leading sectors in life sciences, AI, nuclear and more can reach new heights, building a roadmap to become a science and technology superpower.”