Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Geoffrey Copeland, Chairman, Coalition of Modern Universities, Vice Chancellor, University of Westminster

  On behalf of the Coalition of Modern Universities, which consists of 32 of the university institutions created in 1992 who are in membership of CVCP, I am happy to endorse the submission of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals which you have already received. In addition I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the enclosed research report, due to be published in July.[18] I note that in recent Reports the Committee has drawn attention to the need for a strategy to promote involvement with SMEs, the need for more qualified SET graduates and the role of industry in attracting graduates into industrial careers. Our research is of relevance to all these issues.

  "Modern Universities and SMEs: Building Relationships" is based on a survey of 500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in five localities. Commissioned from the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, the study was designed to:

    —  map the extent of interaction between SMEs and their local universities;

    —  explore the types of interaction in which companies were involved, and how they had been achieved;

    —  gauge the success of links between SMEs and the five modern universities participating in the study, and

    —  highlight potential areas for development in building relationships between SMEs and modern universities.

  Overall, the survey data revealed that a substantial proportion of SMEs have developed beneficial relationships with their local modern university with regard to the recruitment of graduates, obtaining professional development and training, and assistance with technology and knowledge transfer relating to new product/service development and general business support. Specifically:

    —  Recruitment of graduates: is more likely where there are existing links with a university and 36 per cent of the SMEs surveyed provided placements; placements act as a way of "screening" of prospective employees and demonstrate the value of employing graduates.

    —  Continuing professional development: 22 per cent of SMEs had taken advantage of this service but there was a lack of awareness and perceived lack of need amongst the rest.

    —  Knowledge and technology transfer: 15 per cent of SMEs had benefited from this of which 5 per cent were related to technological innovation. This compares well with the DTI 1996 national survey figure of 4 per cent. These links were often the result of individual academics forging relationships.

  The survey indicates that there may well be a "latent" demand from employers for the types of service that universities are well placed to serve. A number of employers reported that in the future they would like to establish a relationship with their local university but felt constrained in doing so because of a lack of information about how to develop a link.

  The above finding must however be viewed in context. There are over two million SMEs and about 100 universities. The difficulties universities face in making contact with such a large number of SMEs, many of them micro enterprises, is well known; SME's often lack the personnel and expertise to engage in knowledge transfer activities.

  Although most of the activities surveyed were in place before the introduction of the new Higher Education Reach Out funding, all five universities had committed a substantial resource to building relationships with SMEs through, for example, developing "one stop" facilities that provided information, signposting, and brokerage services to businesses interested in developing a relationship with the university. Similarly, the universities surveyed had been proactive in developing networks regionally and targeting industries where they possessed expertise. With a limited resource, the universities had developed strong links with SMEs to assist their graduates obtain jobs. In addition to this, they had fostered links with SMEs relating to activities where they had a particular academic strength.

  The study also points out that, when considering the role of the modern university in building relationships with SMEs it is also necessary to bear in mind the primary purpose of the university. Though there may be a strong latent demand from SMEs for a particular type of service, universities may not be best placed to meet that demand alone. Targeting of resources through intermediary organisations such as Business Links, TECs and other potential partners in the local area had proved highly successful for several of the universities in building relationships with SMEs.

  I hope that this summary will encourage your members to read the rest of our report which will I trust be of interest and assistance to you in drawing up your Report.

20 June 2000

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