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Innovation: Co-operation Between Universities and Businesses

Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

1. Whether she has had discussions with Cabinet colleagues on encouraging co-operation between universities and businesses to promote innovation. (901497)

Of course, I speak to colleagues on this important topic all the time. Our science and technology framework is designed to ensure that we do not just challenge university rankings, but translate them into material benefits for the United Kingdom. My Department has a number of programmes breaking down the barriers between universities and businesses, which have contributed to the nearly 90,000 interactions reported between universities and businesses in 2021-22. That is a 5% increase on the previous year.

Since we have had the impact assessment of universities globally, many of the new and more innovative small universities have outstripped the more conventional and better-known universities. Indeed, the Huddersfield health innovation campus is leading in this area. Does the Minister agree that that innovation partnership offers real opportunities for jobs in the future, and should there not be more incentives to make innovations come faster rather than slower?

I agree with the hon. Member about the importance of focusing on innovation and collaboration in this area. The University of Huddersfield received £1.63 million this year through the higher education innovation fund to support knowledge exchange and collaboration with business, and I am sure that we can write to the hon. Member with more details.

On 1 January this year, the UK became an associate member of the Horizon Europe programme and Copernicus. Given our delayed start, could the Secretary of State say what steps she is taking to encourage participation by UK universities and businesses?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I welcome the news shared just last week by Commissioner Ivanova, who said the early signs of uptake are absolutely excellent. Indeed, some programmes are projecting an increase of over 50%. We are not being complacent. We have launched a comprehensive international marketing campaign, introduced a pump-priming scheme with the British Academy and already started on roadshows.

British researchers are among the best in the world. We are not so good at turning our brilliant research into the growth that our economy so desperately needs, which requires collaboration between businesses and universities throughout the long years of discovery, testing, adoption and commercialisation. Funding science in chunks of three years or less does not help, so universities, businesses and researchers have all welcomed Labour’s commitment to set 10-year budgets for funding bodies in key institutions. Does the Secretary of State agree, or is that too much to expect from a short-term, sticking-plaster Government?

While the words sound good, it is this Government who are delivering on our plan. Just a few months ago we published our response to the spin-out review, and we are making record levels of investment—£20 billion in research and development. This is a Government who are not just talking the talk, but actually delivering.