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Minister hears from business and university leaders in the Midlands on how they can support economic recovery

Midlands Innovation was delighted to host a recent roundtable discussion with Amanda Solloway MP, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, on how universities can work with businesses to support the country’s economic recovery.

The Minister was joined by leading business representatives covering a range of sectors including; manufacturing, energy, space, water and the financial services, as well as Vice-Chancellors and representatives from all eight Midlands Innovation (MI) university partners (the universities of Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick).

Business delegates discussed with the Minister the importance and impact of long-term strategic partnerships with universities, and how collaborative research leads not only to business breakthroughs, and in some cases even national and international sector breakthroughs, but also in terms of universities supplying them with skilled workforces – be that through a supply of graduates, internships, postdoctoral researchers, or through their civic roles and extensive outreach in their local communities.

The Minister heard from representatives from Intelligent Energy, an academic spinout SME from Loughborough University and, also from WSP. Representatives discussed how the region’s Energy Research Accelerator (or ERA) provides a platform for energy sector businesses large and small to coordinate and collaborate on activity, particularly in areas where academia and industry can share knowledge and work together, which can help identify gaps in the market, and how through ERA – the UK’s largest green energy research partnership, which is based in the Midlands - academic partners across institutions work collectively to identify with businesses projects that can help address their needs and draw upon the extensive energy research expertise from across the partnership.

All of the business representatives in the discussion reinforced how their university collaborations supported business productivity by being able to tap into skilled talent pools of industry ready workers, and in the case of Intelligent Energy, how co-location on a university innovation park can also help them to easily tap into academic knowledge too. A representative of an international satellite company highlighted how business and industry considerations of the development of Space Park Leicester by the University of Leicester is unlocking not just the current potential, but also the future potential of the sector in the UK and beyond, as well as its future workforce. 

A Chief Scientist for a multinational joint fuel venture explained how their longstanding relationship with the University of Warwick, meant they are able to influence teaching in order to prepare PhD students to have the right skillset to become employees, not just for their workplace, but for the benefit of society. And how a flexible approach to Intellectual Property can lead to business diversification.

A representative from a multinational manufacturer, which undertakes collaborative research with many Midlands Innovation partner institutions, highlighted an example which demonstrated that the Midlands has the capability in the region and that by businesses and universities working with Government it will maximise economic benefit for the country.

Professor Alec Cameron, Chair of Midlands Innovation and Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, who chaired the discussion, said: “We were delighted that the Minister could join us for this important discussion with business leaders. Together, we were able to highlight some key examples of best practice demonstrating the intrinsic collaboration between businesses and universities and how universities can add huge value to research that supports business innovation, products and competitiveness, as well as the supply of a skilled workforce. 

“Analysis shows the Midlands has the deepest economic exposure of any UK region, and this is further exacerbated as the region receives higher levels of private sector R&D investment, and our businesses are in some of the most exposed sectors. 

“As a group of the region’s most research-intensive universities, we are uniquely placed and ready to support efforts to help the region’s, and indeed the country’s, economic recovery. We are undertaking cutting-edge research, supporting business innovation and regional productivity, and building on our reputation as delivering more business patents per pound of research funding than any other UK university alliance.”