Science and the Regional Development Agencies Submission to the by olliegoblue31

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									Science and the Regional Development Agencies




Submission to the House of Lords Science and
 Technology Committee by the North West
    University’s Association (NWUA)




                 February 2003
1     Introduction

1.1   The North West Universities Association was founded in 1999 and represents the
      sixteen higher education institutions in the North West of England.

1.2   The RAE results published in December 2001 confirm the international quality of
      the research (ratings of 5 or 5*) in many science and technology departments in the
      North West, that the best research-led universities are 'playing in the premier
      league' for international research and that the North West is unique in having
      significant 5* research throughout the HE base.

1.3   Part A of this submission responds to the specific questions raised by the Sub-
      Committee. These questions have been re-phrased to focus specifically upon the
      North West Development Agency (NWDA). The NWUA welcomes the
      importance which the NWDA’s policies attach not just to deriving regional
      competitive advantage through knowledge transfer from Higher Education
      Institutions, but also to developing and sustaining the research base which
      underpins this knowledge transfer.

1.4   Part B makes some specific recommendations for ensuring maximum regional
      advantage from the HE science base and draws heavily upon an NWUA submission
      to the North West Science Council.



Part A: Sub-Committee Questions


2.    How and to what extent does the NWDA develop and exploit SET
      to stimulate employment, employment opportunities, regeneration,
      wealth creation, and improved skill levels?
2.1   The initial NWDA Regional Strategy included objectives with a strong implied
      SET focus, for example:
      “To create the environment for the North West to be a vibrant, world-class centre
      of excellence in innovation, which drives and feeds the economic prosperity of the
      region.”
      The importance the NWDA attaches to the HE Sector is clarified in the draft
      revised NWDA Strategy; this emphasises not just technology transfer from
      universities but also the importance of world class research in science and
      technology in driving economic regeneration and regional prosperity in a
      knowledge-led economy.




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2.2   The HE Sector in the North West has worked with the NWDA since its inception,
      developing and implementing policies to exploit SET. The NWUA believes that
      the accelerating degree of engagement with the HE sector and the breadth of
      activities supported by the NWDA augur exceptionally well for the future economy
      of the region.

2.3   Arguably, of greatest potential benefit to the region in developing and exploiting
      SET is the support given by the NWDA to the Northwest Science Council. The
      recently published Science Strategy englandsnorthwest is a UK first and the Region
      should be justifiably proud of this innovative approach. The HE Sector is
      represented on the Science Council by two NWUA Board members, including the
      NWUA Chair; the Executive Director of the NWUA also is in attendance.
      Moreover, the Chair of the NWUA Research Committee is a member of the
      Council’s ‘Core Group’, which is chaired by one of the NWUA Science Council
      members.

2.4   Although Science Strategy englandsnorthwest is influenced strongly by the
      NWDA’s industrial sector/cluster approach, there was extensive consultation with
      the HE Sector. The NWUA Research Committee made a detailed submission and
      many of the ideas were incorporated. For example, Science Strategy
      englandsnorthwest includes mechanisms for collaboration (‘innovation zones’)
      which were proposed by, and which will be encouraged by, the NWUA. These
      ‘innovation zones’ will be research partnerships designed to achieve critical mass
      or to facilitate multidisciplinary research.

2.5   There has been some concern within the NWUA that important opportunities for
      the region might be missed by focussing too narrowly on ‘hard’ science and
      engineering. Management science has an obvious relevance for a region with
      notably low levels of productivity. Moreover, the social sciences figured strongly
      in the Foresight Reports as a major potential source of innovation, particularly in
      collaboration with scientists and technologists. Similarly in the creative industries
      sector, there is considerable potential for collaborative research between science,
      technology and the arts. The draft revised Regional Economic Strategy begins to
      recognise the importance of these areas.


3.    How do advances in SET and national SET policies and initiatives
      influence and inform NWDA’s strategies?
3.1   The NWDA engages actively with the NWUA or selected universities in
      responding to national policies and initiatives (e.g. broadband; incubation), often
      giving a specific regional dimension (e.g. regional foresight). The NWDA also
      provides support, sometimes financially, when the HE sector pursues national
      initiatives (e.g. Genomics Institute, Fourth Generation Light Source and Science
      Teaching Centre of Excellence).




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3.2   As emphasised in the previous Section, the NWDA is directly involved in
      strengthening the SET research base where this can result in active support for
      industry in the region. This is consistent with national policy on universities being
      powerhouses for the economy.

3.3   Again in line with national policy, the NWDA is being proactive in developing a
      network of incubators for spin-out and start-up businesses; most are located in, or
      supported by, HE institutions. The NWDA also supports a wide range of
      knowledge transfer projects.

3.4   Academic researchers are networked into the international research community in
      their subject area. They are therefore potential sources of authoritative 'intelligence'
      on R&D developments around the world. The North West is not currently
      capitalising systematically on this intelligence although Science Strategy
      englandsnorthwest notes the importance of horizon scanning and promises
      ‘forward-looking exercises’.


4.    Does the NWDA take full advantage of all available local, regional,
      and national SET facilities, expertise, and funds (including EU
      funds) in implementing their policies?

4.1   It was emphasised in Section 2 that the NWDA has been progressively developing
      its engagement with the HE sector. There were concerns that the NWDA’s
      commitment to a demand-led, industrial sector/cluster approach might risk short-
      term considerations prejudicing the development and pursuit of strategic SET
      directions. It might also make it difficult to establish effective links with the
      research base because of the number of academic disciplines relevant to each
      industrial sector/cluster and the number of problems which are generic across
      sectors/clusters. However, these concerns are addressed both by Science Strategy
      englandsnorthwest and the draft revised Regional Economic Strategy. Moreover,
      the NWDA has shown itself willing to support SET in a ‘response mode’ where it
      can be demonstrated that there are opportunities for the region to benefit from
      international quality research in the region’s universities. The NWDA has
      developed rigorous review procedures for submitted projects.

4.2   The NWDA has been particularly effective in providing match funding to leverage
      money from other funding sources. A major example is the ‘virtual Economic
      Development Zone’ (vEDZ) with £14.4m ERDF Objective 2 funding for science
      and technology transfer infrastructure projects in universities and associated
      organisations. The NWDA is providing match funding for most of these projects.
      It is also providing match funding for many ERDF revenue projects being run by
      HEIs in the region.

4.3   The NWDA has contributed additional funding to the NWUA to support
      KnowledgeNorthWest, a brokerage service which enables businesses to access


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      appropriate expertise anywhere within the universities and colleges of the North
      West.


5.    How does the NWDA reach decisions on financial support for
      SET? How should success be judged?
5.1   The first question is best addressed by the NWDA. The NWUA has welcomed the
      establishment of a North West Science Council. One of the functions of the
      Science Council is to advise the NWDA on financial support for the science base.

5.2   Some projects are relatively straightforward to evaluate using standard performance
      indicators such as number of participants completing course, number of companies
      assisted, number of student placements, or even number of jobs created. These
      performance indicators are superficial measures of economic regeneration but they
      have the merit of simplicity for projects with immediate impact and most HE
      institutions are accustomed to measuring this type of output because of the
      discipline of ERDF reporting. In other cases, evaluation may have to rely on
      qualitative judgements. Many projects associated with SET do not have immediate
      impact, such as investment in the research base, and will be expected to generate
      economic benefit only in the medium or long-term. Moreover, HE institutions
      have an important role in attracting inward investment but success is likely to be
      due to a complex combination of factors and not a single project. However, overall
      success in these areas could be judged by, for example,
      (i)      The success in attracting international and other research funding to the
               North
      (ii)     The number of inward investors citing the SET base as a significant factor
               in their investment decision
      (iii) Research assessment performance



6.    What lessons may be learned from the NWDA’s approach to SET,
      and from the longer experience of Scotland, Wales, and Northern
      Ireland?
6.1   Developments with respect to SET in the North West of England are looking very
      promising. The NWDA is rapidly developing its engagement with the HE sector
      through the Science Council and support for a wide range of projects. A number of
      ‘flagship’ projects are well advanced (e.g. Core Technology Facility in Manchester;
      InfoLab21 at Lancaster). It is premature for a full evaluation of the NWDA’s
      approach. Perhaps more important is to note that the approach has evolved through
      dialogue with the HE sector, with progressively increasing commitments from each
      side.

6.2   The NWUA has not reviewed evidence from elsewhere in the UK.


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Part B: NWDA Support for the Science Base – Some Specific
Issues
7     Timescales
7.1   Adjustments to the research base in HEIs can take years to achieve, major new
      areas may take a decade or more to achieve international quality. On the other
      hand, industrial needs tend to be immediate with arguably less knowledge about
      likely future technological opportunities and possibilities than academic
      researchers. Moreover, many of the companies which will in ten or twenty years be
      benefiting from the HEI research base in the north west do not yet exist or have not
      yet considered locating here.

7.2   Any new technology transfer links between university departments and industry are
      likely to influence research agendas. But this risks being more opportunistic than
      strategic. At worst, it may operate more to perpetuate the current industrial
      processes and production rather than stimulate innovation based on new
      technologies.

7.3   Steering the research base to address regional needs therefore needs a strategic
      regional engagement with HEIs focussing on the medium to long-term planning
      horizon. This contrasts with the immediate nature of most current national
      initiatives for encouraging knowledge transfer from HEIs.


8.    Policy Instruments
8.1   Policy for the science base needs to address the build up of critical mass; the
      development of new research areas, particularly those at the boundaries of
      traditional disciplines; more effective communication with industrial
      sectors/clusters; and the horizon scanning which is essential for developing strategy
      and for keeping it under test and review.

8.2   The NWDA could use a number of mechanisms to incentivise HE institutions to
      strengthen the science base and steer it, at least in part, towards regional needs:
      (i)    funding to overcome the friction of distance in the operation of
             collaborations and partnerships, perhaps including funding of an extensive
             network of teleconferencing facilities using broadband networks;
      (ii)    funding infrastructure such as specialised equipment which could not be
              justified by individual research groups in any one university;
      (iii) funding new facilities or staff to enable strong research groups to increase
              their research effort in strategically important areas;



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      (iv)   seed corn funding for collaborative research proposals, perhaps enabling
             pilot studies which would strengthen a subsequent major bid to UK research
             councils or other funder;
      (v)    funding leaders (not necessarily from within the HEIs) to create and manage
             partnerships for specific purposes;
      (vi)   funding the development of advanced courses which draw upon the
             research base and which are strategically important for the region.

8.3   Networking processes are required which take a medium and long term view of the
      needs of the region and the shaping of the research base. Inter-relations must be
      managed so that innovative and creative solutions for industry flow from the
      research base, whilst concurrently feeding back the challenges and problems from
      industry to academia creating a two way process. The NWDA could exert
      substantial leverage at relatively low cost. The following specific network
      processes are proposed but the emphasis must be upon flexibility and evolving
      procedures as we accumulate experience of promoting academic/industrial links:
      (i)    funding leaders to create and manage partnerships for specific purposes;
      (ii)   establishing "horizon scanning" project groups;
      (iii) funding symposia/workshops/other events involving academic researchers,
             R&D staff, and technologists within companies.
      (iv)   funding newsletters, web sites, and other communication systems to ensure
             that appropriate staff in HE and industry are kept informed of developments
             across the region.




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