The Benefits of University-Industry Collaborations

Dr Tamsin Saxton, guest blogger
Dr Tamsin Saxton, guest blogger

Guest blogger, Dr Tamsin Saxton, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Northumbria University shares the insights she gained at an event designed to provide information to support academics in creating and capitalising on opportunities to work with industry. Below, she summarises the key take-home points explaining why industry collaborations are useful, possible barriers to these collaborations, and how to go about setting up and developing collaborations.

Benefits of collaborations

Academics and universities have a lot to gain from collaborating with industry, whether that be local small businesses, global enterprises, or something in between. Industry collaborations can add substantive content, innovation, and expertise to research funding applications. In some instances, industry might contribute directly to university projects, perhaps by supplying funding, or making available rich and extensive data sets. The best applied research addresses fundamental real-world problems; one of the best ways to uncover those problems can be through industrial collaborations, and successful resolution of those problems can lead to the kind of impact that may well be needed in the next REF. Industry collaborations can also enhance the student experience, such as through work experience opportunities or guest lecture invitations.

Industry also has a lot to gain from collaborations with universities. Universities can offer the best in cutting-edge research, which can be tremendously exciting to an enterprise which might be using outdated approaches, or might just not have the time and resources to dedicate to innovation. Even the largest organisations often do not have the research capacity to innovate constantly in relation to all of their activities, which is why we see universities collaborating with industries of all shapes and sizes. A university collaboration can be a mark of prestige and value to a business organisation, increasing its value and standing among its competitors, and also in the eyes of evaluators such as investors. Collaborations also provide opportunities for businesses to reflect upon their working practices.

Collaborations with businesses in the North-East of England have their own particular benefits. Compared to the rest of the UK, the North-East has the lowest number of start-up companies per capita. Accordingly, local collaborations can help improve this record, while building the regional economy and innovative capacity, and potentially tackling specific societal and economic challenges.

Barriers to collaboration

The establishment of industrial collaborations, however, entails overcoming a number of barriers. Universities do not always market their expertise well; it can be very difficult for external organisations to find out essential information: the expertise, skills and equipment available; who is available for and interested in collaborations; how to go about making and developing contacts. Universities can appear to be alien, intimidating environments; the idea of the ‘ivory tower’ can be off-putting. In addition, universities can be perceived to be expensive working partners, they have different priorities from businesses, and businesses and universities speak a different language and run on different timescales.

Exploration-Innovation - M Schmidt (CC by 2.0)
Exploration-Innovation – M Schmidt (CC by 2.0)

Developing successful projects

There are a number of ways to try to overcome the barriers to collaboration and develop successful projects. University Business Engagement Managers are very happy to talk to academics and provide support. They can point academics to suitable business representatives who are also keen to encourage new projects that will support businesses. Indeed, it can often be wise to involve a trusted body, such as an organisation that provides representation for a set of industries, in a project or a funding application. This body can guide academics to suitable local contacts, and explain the priorities, schedules, and needs of the particular industry in question. It’s always important to keep in mind that successful projects are only built on successful relationships with people, and so building relationships has to be paramount. Starting with a small project, such as a dissertation project, can be a good way to build trust and knowledge of different working styles and needs. Finding out what the industry needs, and offering to help, is a more effective opening gambit than striding in with a request for money, input, or project commitment. Finally, once the project is up and running, then a few things might help it proceed smoothly: have a clear plan; establish common goals and projects; and build in engagement opportunities such as workshops or seminars where you keep people up to date with the project development and particularly its successes.

The event, ‘ESRC Impact Acceleration Account Capacity Building Event’, was held on 26th April 2016, and hosted by Newcastle University (Business School). This report was written by event delegate Dr Tamsin Saxton, Senior Lecturer in Psychology (


Presentations from H2020 Societal Challenge 1: Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing info day

Horizon 2020-2Presentations from a recent EC info day on Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge 1: Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing are available to watch on the event website. The first set of presentations cover ‘ICT for Health, Infectious Diseases, Personalised Medicine and Non-communicable Diseases’ and the second, ‘Regenerative Medicine and Advanced Therapies’.

They give details of the 2017 calls, the rules of participation, key legal and financial issues, and information on opportunities for business. The introduction also highlights the main changes to the text of the 2017 calls from the original 2016-2017 Work Programme. These include:

  • PM-07-2017 (on promoting mental health) now makes specific reference to migrants;
  • PM-20-2017 is now called ‘Development of new methods and measures for improved economic evaluation and efficiency measures in the health sector’;
  • HCO-07-2017, a topic on the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) has now been developed to focus on mental health;
  • A new co-ordination and support topic is included on providing support to the ‘World RePORT’ mapping project and tracking research outcomes; and
  • An additional €48 million has been added to the 2017 budget. €35 million of this will go to the SME Instrument in order to allow high-quality applicants from the last call to bid again for funding; the remaining €13 million will be split between topics PM-02, PM-08 and PM-10.
  • There is a new topic SC1-HCO-17-2017: CSA for support for large-scale uptake of Digital Innovation for Active and Healthy Ageing.
  • Topic PM-15 on Personalised coaching for well-being and care of people as they age has had a budget increase of €1.5 million.

Seminar invite: Enhancing employability – do we really know what we are doing?

Newcastle Business School and Department of Psychology are holding a joint seminar on “Enhancing Employability” on Thursday 23rd June from 13.00-16.30 at City Campus East CCE1-224c to which all interested staff are welcome.

The seminar will examine developments in the conceptualisation and theorisation of employability from empirical research. It also aims to question the established orthodoxy of employability as the acquisition and possession of capabilities which can be transferred directly into employment.

There will be presentations from diverse perspectives from across the disciplines of business, law, education and psychology. The seminar will conclude by inviting all participants to consider the way forward for collective research into employability.

For further information or to register your attendance, please email




Brussels information week on H2020 Societal Challenge 2, 27-29 June

The European Commission will hold an information week from 27 to 29 June on the Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge 2 ‘Food Security, Sustainable sugarcaneAgriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the Bioeconomy‘.

This will provide opportunities to hear about successful FP7 and Horizon 2020 projects in these areas, to learn about the upcoming Societal Challenge 2 calls and to participate in “brokerage” sessions to meet potential project partners.

Participation is free but you must register by 10 June. If you have an idea for a project in one of these areas and would like to attend this event, please contact your faculty research funding and policy manager. We also have  small “EU networking” fund to support academics to attend events such as these.



ECR Forum this Friday!

Just a reminder that we’re holding the first Northumbria Early Career Researchers Forum of this academic year on  Friday 13 November from 12-1 in the Mea House auditorium. This is open to anyone in the early stages of a research career, including PGRs. For more info on the content of the meeting see my earlier blog post.

There is no need to sign up, just come along on Friday and feel free to bring your lunch with you.


Come along to the next ECR Forum on Friday 13 November

We’re holding the first Northumbria Early Career Researchers Forum of this academic year next Friday 13 November from 12-1 in the Mea House auditorium. question by cesar bojorquez CC BY 2.0

This is open to anyone in the early stages of a research career, regardless of job title  or any formal definition of ECR. We also welcome interested final stage PhD students. This meeting will also include a discussion around the challenges of undertaking a PhD whilst working so you or your colleagues are in that position then please come along.

This meeting will include:

  • An introduction to the ECR working group representatives for 2015-16 (see list of reps below). These are the people who have volunteered to sit on various faculty and university committees to make sure that an ECR voice is heard. They also organise and plan other ECR activities such as the forum meetings and they are the first point of contacts for ECR issues/support in the faculty.
  • A discussion around research mentoring at Northumbria: what the current scheme includes and a chance to feed in your perspectives to help shape future plans.
  • A discussion around undertaking a PhD whilst working – some speakers will talk about their own experiences and the discussion will look at ways of managing the challenges that this brings.
  • A chance to suggest issues/themes that the ECR Forum could focus on this year or the ECR working group could take forward at faculty or university level.

There is no need to sign up, just come along next week. Feel free to bring your lunch with you. If you can’t make and would like to contact your faculty ECR representatives, their details are as follows:

Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences

Kirsten Haack

David Wood

Faculty of Business and Law

Clare Sandford-Couch (Law)

Helen Tracey (Business)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

Paul Mann

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Tora Smulders-Srinivasan

Gemma Wilson


Horizon 2020 work programmes for 2016-17 published

The EC has published the Horizon 2020 work programmes for 2016-17 today. These include details of 97 calls for proposals and 16 billion euros of funding that will be awarded to European research projects over the next two years. This includes funding across all three pillars of Horizon 2020 with a focus on supporting SMEs, developing the digital single market and imprving links with non-EU countries, including Brazil, Japan.  and Korea. If you are interested in applying to Horizon 2020, the work programmes are the best place to start!



UKRO Annual Visit: Everything you ever wanted to know about EU research funding.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we have our annual UKRO visit on Friday 18 September. This is a good opportunity to refresh your knowledge of EU funding, particularly the current €80 bn framework logoprogramme Horizon 2020 and to start thinking about the upcoming 2016 calls for proposals.  Most of the sessions will be led by our UKRO advisor, Alex Berry. We also have a session led by Jude Kirton-Darling, one of the North East MEPs. You will also be able to sign up for 15 minute clinic sessions if you have any specific EU funding queries you would like to discuss with Alex.

Details are below. Click on the links to sign up for the sessions. You won’t receive any confirmation but you can go back into the poll at any time to check it or amend your entry.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Time Session Venue Register*

Applying for EU funding – top tips and lessons learned from the first round of Horizon 2020 calls


CCE1-410 Register here

Jude Kirton-Darling, North East MEPs – how Europe benefits the North East, including through research and innovation funding


CCE1-410 Register here

Opportunities for academics to work with industry in Horizon 2020 – FET, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges


CCE1-410 Register here

Clinic appointments – These are 15 minute slots and your chance to ask questions about EU funding and to start preparing for the upcoming 2016 Horizon 2020 calls


CCE1-410 Register here




Save the date! Annual UKRO visit on Friday 18 September

We have our annual UKRO visit coming up on Friday 18 September.  Alexandra Berry, Northumbria’s UKRO logoadvisor, will run a number of sessions on City Campus open to all staff and PGR students. I will post further details on how to sign up in early September but for now we can tell you that Alex will run the following sessions throughout the day:

  • Applying for EU funding – top tips and lessons learned from the first round of Horizon 2020 calls
  • Opportunities for academics to work with industry in Horizon 2020: FET, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges
  • Clinic session with 15-20 minute bookable slots – your chance to ask questions about EU funding and to start preparing for the upcoming 2016 Horizon 2020 calls.

If there is anything else you would like to see, please let me know asap and we can try to fit it into the day.

As always, if you are interested in EU funding and policy we would recommend you sign up for daily UKRO alerts. As the UK Research Councils’ European Office, they support and enable UK HE to access EU funding and to influence relevant EU policy initiatives.

We are also excited to have a visit from Jude Kirton-Darling, one of the regional MEPs, in the morning of the 18th to talk about how Europe benefits the North East, including through research and innovation funding. More details to follow shortly.


Become an H2020 evaluator

The European Commission is still looking for experts to assist with various Horizon 2020-related research and pp_illustration_4innovation assignments, including evaluating proposals and programmes and monitoring projects. Some Northumbria colleagues were involved in evaluating the 2014 H2020 calls and some others are on the database for future evaluations.

This is a great way to see first-hand what the EC is looking for and what gets funded. You may also go to Brussels (as well as carry out online evaluations) where you could meet EC officials and other reviewers who could be potential funding collaborators. The EC will give you a daily rate for your time as well as cover your expenses.

It is fairly straightforward to register online as an expert. You need to have an ECAS account which gives you login access to the Participant Portal. You then complete a profile listing your skills, experience and knowledge. You should have professional expertise in one of the areas of Horizon 2020 e.g. health and well-being or nanotechnologies, or in cross-cutting issues e.g. international co-operation in science and technology; administration, management or evaluation of research projects; research impact; gender equality; social innovation etc. There is no deadline for registering. You can also update your profile at any time.