Christina Blakey, Head of Knowledge Exchange Office
For those in the Knowledge Exchange field within academia, one of the key dates in the calendar is the publication of the National Centre for University and Business (NCUB) Report on the State of the Relationship. This annual report examines the interactions between businesses and universities in the previous year, while horizon scanning for future policy direction and trends within the world of Knowledge Exchange.
This year’s report is no less anticipated especially, as the report reflects on the first full year post covid and enables universities to understand the longer-term impact of the pandemic on Knowledge Exchange.
The report showed that in the large, interactions between universities and businesses has increased back to pre-pandemic levels, an encouraging sign that the value provided to our business community continues to grow and develop, despite the disruption of recent years.
The number of interactions between universities and businesses had declined by 1.9% during the pandemic between 2019/20 and 2020/21, but the data for 2021/22 reveals a noteworthy upswing, marking the first positive shift since the pandemic. The total number of interactions reached 88,881, a 5.1% increase on the year from 76,952 in 2020/21.
Income from Knowledge Exchange activity grew by 16.1%, reaching pre-pandemic levels of £1.2bn. This increase was driven mainly by a 14.8% rise in contract research services and an 8.5% increase in consultancy services. Universities’ revenue from engagement with both SMEs and large businesses also surged, with increases of 10.8% and 15.5%, respectively.
There are a few exceptions to this positivity such as a reduction in the number of patents, licencing income and enrolments on CPD/CE courses for business and the community.
CPD/CE courses for business and the community experienced a drop in enrolments from 4,136,090 in 2020/21 to 3,906,709 in 2021/22. However, the sector experienced an increase in the number of learner days delivered. I suspect this is because universities have become better at accurately capturing the number of learner days delivered to businesses and the community rather than an actual increase.
These figures are reassuring for the sector that despite the pandemic, universities continue to play an active part in innovation, productivity, local growth, and regeneration.
But behind the facts and figures, it’s important to not lose sight of the purpose of universities or of the impact we can have on our place and our people. While income measures and many of the metrics included in the report are interesting and salient, they are just metrics. The real essence of Knowledge Exchange is the impact we, as an organisation, can have on the people and communities we serve.
As a university, Edge Hill has invested in the development of the Knowledge Exchange Office, a central point of contact for all businesses and organisations to engage with the university. This investment signifies the importance that Edge Hill places on our interactions, not only with businesses but also with community groups, local authorities, NHS trusts, charities and other organisations who make a difference to the people and communities we serve.
The impact of who we work with, how we work with organisations and the difference we can support our partners to make to our region, is key to Edge Hill University’s approach to Knowledge Exchange.
Many universities are focusing their efforts towards commercialisation, technology transfer or high-level research and development – and these are vital to the national agenda. But here at Edge Hill, we pride ourselves on being a little different. Our approach is to ensure that the communities we serve are at the forefront of any initiatives we develop and where we invest our resources.
In the words of Dame Jessica Corner, we firmly believe that “Universities are lynchpins to the locality in which they sit.” And with great power, comes great responsibility.
Our flagship programmes such as Tackling the Blues, Arts for the Blues, Institute of Creative Enterprise’s Skills Bootcamps, our student-led radio station ‘Edgehog Web Radio, and upskilling in the heart of Wigan are all driven by the value the university places on our role in making a real difference to our people and our place.
In reflection of this, the university launched its Regional Investment Fund in November 2023. After receiving a small amount of funding from Research England as a reflection of the regeneration and local growth activity performed by the university in recent years, we made the decision to redistribute this funding to have a direct benefit for our partners and regional businesses. Our innovation voucher programme, utilises this funding to support regional and local organisations to make a difference to their people, their place or their business. The funding provides a 50% match for small scale projects to enable organisations from outside of the university to access our expertise and facilities for the improvement of our region.
To find out more about engaging with the university, go to: www.edgehill.ac.uk/engage