Research Funding as a Driver of Growth

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This blog post has been produced to provide insight into the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2019 is produced by City-REDI, University of Birmingham and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high-quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter One of the Birmingham Economic Review  “Adapting, Innovating and Preparing for the Near Future”.  

Research funding awarded to local universities acts as a catalyst for other investments in city-regions and a positive driver for regional economic development. Studies show a clear relationship between regions with good universities, where on-campus innovation activities align with local competitive advantages, and economic growth (in terms of GVA and start-ups). This is supported by recent City-REDI research, which examined the experiences of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and their partners in securing funding. The research found that the presence of research-intensive universities in Birmingham is a central factor in the success of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and its ability to attract funding awards. The GBSLEP has received significant levels of funding from Horizon2020 (53,590,192 euros for 2014-2018) and research Council/Innovate UK (£997,002,402 for 2012-2021).

When we account for the unequal LEP geographies, by standardising funding data per head of population in each LEP, we find that the GBSLEP sits in the top ten LEP areas outside of London, in terms of its success at winning both European and UK research funding. The Midlands Engine receives the highest level of InnovateUK Funding awards, reflecting its strong history of manufacturing. Having strong research universities is critical to this success because they tend to be awarded to the strongest consortia of university research groups and R&D-focused businesses in key technology areas. But high levels of science, technology and engineering skills, strong regional partnership networks and coherent local industrial policies are also all important factors. Moreover, we have seen noticeable recent improvements across all of these components in the West Midlands region.

The presence of research-intensive universities in Birmingham, like the University of Birmingham, is a central factor in the success of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and its ability to attract funding awards.

The funding supports research teams and infrastructure to underpin the generation, use, application and exploitation of knowledge. Universities also provide skilled graduates as an important capacity-building input into the region’s innovation ecosystems with associated impacts on regional productivity. There is also the transformative knowledge that both graduates and the University departments offer to the LEPs, local authority, Chambers of Commerce, trade and professional bodies, other public services, as well as businesses.

But there is much more to be done. In order to build on the strengths of universities more broadly, there is a demand for better partnerships to be built between our universities and local businesses. This would help to address the long-term, systemic problem of the UK university-industry gap, in the translation of research into commercial products. It is also timely, given the UK government’s recent proposal for the development of a Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) to compare how effective universities are at fostering knowledge sharing and the commercialisation of research. Studies have found that bridging this university-industry gap requires confronting the differences in institutional logics and priorities between the business and higher education worlds. For example, academics are motivated by a number of competing incentives and performance indicators (including their civic role, teaching responsibilities and REF) that compete with commercialisation activities. At City-REDI, we are looking at ways of addressing this issue by identifying the different forms of commercialisation pathways at Universities and developing a framework to help academics to better understand the process and the potential impact of their technologies.

You can download a copy of the Birmingham Economic Review here

This blog was written by Dr Chloe Billing, Research Fellow at City-REDI. 

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