The Government published its response to the Dowling Review on 20th December welcoming and strongly supporting the review which it says is reflected in the £100m over four years it announced in the last budget to support university-business collaboration – ‘The Dowling Review will continue to guide our ongoing work to reform and simplify public support for research and development and maximise the potential benefits of collaboration between business and our academic research base.’
This is a summary of the main points:
- UK Research and Investment (UKRI) will be the Government’s instrument to connect businesses with research by allocating funding for research and innovation, act as a champion for the UK’s world class system and drive future discovery and growth. It will incorporate the functions of the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK, and HEFCE’s research funding and knowledge exchange responsibilities (assuming it is approved by Parliament).
- Public support for the innovation system is too complex. Actions taken by the Government include a simplified offer for Innovate UK funding, thinking about how to design a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund delivered by Innovate UK and research councils, and research councils are looking at changing the system of research and innovation funding. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on this one.
- People are central to successful collaborations. The emphasis on research impact and the research environment alongside outputs is seen as a way to encourage and reward collaboration with business and commercialisation of research in the public interest. Various existing initiatives are listed that support academics to develop collaborative skills or promote the benefits of collaboration. However it doesn’t say much else about how to meet Dowling’s recommendations on ‘…creating an incentive framework for universities and businesses which promotes the transfer of ideas and people between business and academia, and recommended supporting students to develop business awareness at an early stage of their research careers, continuing to fund schemes which support mobility between academia and business and ensuring that researchers who are successful in collaborations are valued in terms of career progression and assessment of research output – including by increasing the emphasis on collaboration in the Research Excellence Framework (REF).’ It says it’s up to universities how they direct their priorities to suit local strengths and needs.
- Effective brokerage is crucial, particularly for SMEs, and continued support is needed for activities that help seed collaborations. The Gateway to Research web portal is seen as a step towards meeting the need for digital tools to identify potential research partners and the National Centre for Universities and Business is developing an ‘Intelligent Brokerage Tool’. The government has reaffirmed its long term commitment to knowledge exchange including funding for the Higher Education Innovation Fund, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to develop detailed proposals for allocating this funding to support universities in England. The Dowling Review highlighted Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAAs) and recommended their use more widely. This is likely to be welcomed by those universities who currently do not have an IAA.
- Pump prime funding would stimulate the development of high quality research collaborations with critical mass and sustainability and more should be done to help existing efforts evolve from short-term, project-based collaborations to longer term partnerships focussed on use-inspired research. The document simply lists existing strategies that are aimed at addressing this.
- Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge exchange over short term income generation, and further work is required to improve approaches to contracts and IP agreements. The government has a clear expectation that exploitation of research means prioritising the long term benefits to the nation. This priority is reflected in the support and incentives provided by public research funding and the REF is the principal tool for incentivising behaviour around university research. It also points to the Lambert toolkit supporting IP processes but acknowledges that there is a need to simplify complex and time-consuming processes to agree collaborations. The McMillan review of technology transfer practice and the development of the knowledge exchange framework are cited as progress in this area.
- Government strategy on innovation needs to be better coordinated and have greater visibility. They are aiming to achieve this through the Industrial Strategy and establishing UKRI. They also see a role for the Science and Innovation Audits bringing together businesses, universities and local enterprise partnerships. The Accelerated Access Review of the NHS also supports innovations in medicine
You can read the Government’s response to the Dowling Review in full here.