Connecting the dots: universities, communities and innovation

Connecting the dots: universities, communities and innovation
"By rolling our sleeves up and getting behind business we can make a huge difference to the UK’s prosperity."
 
Young companies less than five years old are the key to economic growth and now account for two-thirds of all the new jobs created. Universities have a vital role to play in sparking and supporting this innovation revolution.
 
Plymouth University’s enterprise mission means we take our responsibilities as an anchor institution very seriously. We are committed to driving economic growth and promoting social inclusion.
 
I see the universities’ role as to connect with the communities we serve, supporting access to research and offering business support. Our world-class marine and maritime expertise is now supported by £19 million state-of-the-art marine renewable testing facilities with an innovation centre at its core. Already we’ve seen one small business launch a global product into the renewable energy sector having tested it in our wave tanks. A number of businesses have recently relocated to be close to the university in that typical cluster effect seen with Silicon Valley or Cambridge’s biotechnology.
 
Because universities are complicated to get at and into we decided it was important to create a single portal of access for people and business. The Witty Review is now calling out to other universities to do the same.
 
So universities have enormous potential to drive economic growth and help connect the dots through their networks and partners, drawing upon their students, graduates and researchers. What we need is to see more universities connect more deeply to the communities they serve, listen to what is needed and help translate this into the academy in a way that aligns with their missions.
 
The Wilson Review reinforced the importance of universities and businesses working together, but it goes beyond that and the Witty Review reminded us of our central role in driving growth. I think as well as the opportunity to do this we have a responsibility too. In accord with our academic missions, we enable talent to express itself in our society and we can enable ideas to become jobs - by rolling our sleeves up and getting behind business we can make a huge difference to the UK’s prosperity.
 
We also brought together all of our innovation work under an umbrella with three local authorities, two local enterprise partnerships and representatives from the private sector. We call this GAIN - the Growth Acceleration and Investment Network. We work closely with 500 local businesses who employ 32,000 people and are turning over close to £3bn. That provides an opportunity for our staff and students to work with business, whether through internships, placements or formal partnership programmes.
 
So universities have enormous potential to drive economic growth and help connect the dots between students, researchers and business. We need to see more universities connect more deeply to the communities they serve; listen to what is needed and help translate this into their missions.
 
The Wilson Review reinforced the importance of universities and businesses working together, and the Witty Review reminded us of our central role in driving growth. As well as an opportunity to do this, we have a responsibility too. In accordance with our academic missions, we enable talent to express itself in our society. By rolling our sleeves up and getting behind business we can make a huge difference to the UK’s prosperity.

Professor Wendy Purcell is Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University.
Expand for more