The UK still lags behind comparable countries in terms of intellectual property income per research resource and the number of successful spin-off companies.
New analysis published this week by Higher Education Funding Council for England highlights the progress being made in improving knowledge sharing between UK universities and the commercial sector.
Total income reached a record £4.2bn in 2015-16. However, more could still be done.
Commenting on the findings, Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson said: “Given the record levels of public investment in R&D, it is essential that universities engage with businesses and communities to make the most of their knowledge and research.
“There are great examples of this across the country, but the system needs to find a new gear. University income from business engagement is growing more slowly than the economy as a whole.
“As a greater proportion of R&D takes place in universities in the UK than in other countries, it’s especially important that we get this right.”
To help close this gap, Johnson announced plans to consult the sector on the development of a new, public Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) to benchmark the performance from university-business collaboration and knowledge exchange. This would be facilitated by Research England within the new UK Research and Innovation body.
The consultation would build upon the work undertaken by the knowledge exchange steering group led by Professor Trevor McMillan, and complements his proposal that the sector should develop clear statements of purpose in order to increase the effectiveness of engagement with business and the wider community.
Alongside the Research Excellence Framework and the Teaching Excellence Framework, the KEF will act as a benchmark for universities to ensure they are making the most of the opportunities available and help ensure that the UK benefits from the research, skills and knowledge in the higher education sector.
The government has been clear on its ambition to foster greater international collaboration in science and innovation, recently signing a Science and Technology Agreement with the US and outlining plans to seek an ambitious science and innovation agreement with the EU.
Celebrating the important contribution international scientists and researchers make to UK innovation, the Science Minister pledged an additional £18m for the Rutherford Fund budget to attract the brightest minds to the UK.
The funding is on top of the £100m the government has already invested and will reportedly enable an additional 200 fellowships to start this year, ensuring the UK remains the go to place for innovation and scientific discovery.
Johnson also announced the first four projects to receive funding from the £100m Connecting Capability Fund. Focused on university collaborations to boost the commercialisation of research, the first round will see groups of universities from England share £20m to address areas such as age-related diseases, access to finance for spinouts, and support for SMEs as they scale-up.