Cardiff University leading the way

As a graduate of Cardiff University, I am proud that the institution is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

It currently has over 26,000 students, around 6,000 staff and an annual turnover of £370m.

In terms of its research profile, it is ranked as seventh out of more than 100 UK universities and, more significantly, joined an elite club of institutions when one of its leading academics, Sir Martin Evans, was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine.

Given such high academic ideals, it would be natural for many to think that Cardiff University does little with the business community. However, recent statistics from the Higher Education – Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) Survey – suggest otherwise and that, contrary to expectation, it is the research-led Cardiff University which has the most extensive links with businesses within the Welsh higher education sector.

Take, for example, the case of contract research, which consists of a bilateral relationship between a university and an external client, where the university provides a research service with objectives dictated by the customer. By institution, Cardiff has 38.8% of all research contracts in Wales, followed by Aberystwyth (24.9%) and Bangor University (14.2%).

Most importantly, there seems to be little restriction on the size of company that the university works for. Cardiff University has over half of all small business contract research work in Wales and two thirds of research contracts with large firms. In terms of consultancy work – which is the innovative application of existing knowledge to provide more immediate solutions for companies in need of knowledge – Cardiff is the largest provider to firms of all sizes in Wales.

However, it is not only the in the provision of contract research or consultancy that Cardiff excels. As various government documents have pointed out, there is a need for greater professional training within companies in Wales.

Given Cardiff’s focus on research and teaching, it is surprising to find that it provides over half of the provision of training to large firms in Wales.

Another important proxy for economic impact is the commercialisation of intellectual property (IP). When academic research leads to a potentially exploitable invention, then research staff will formally notify IP experts. This is an indication of the potential for a university’s knowledge to be developed by the marketplace.

As a sector, Welsh institutions have experienced an increase of 35% in disclosures since 2005-06, with miore than half of these emerging from Cardiff University.

In terms of revenues from IP, UK universities have seen a slight increase of 0.9% although institutions in Wales have seen their overall income improve by 2.5%. However, 87.8% of the £1.7m generated goes to Cardiff University, placing it in the top 10 of IP income generators in the UK.

Therefore, as well as being the largest university in Wales in terms of students and having the best research profile, Cardiff University also seems to be leading the way in terms of links with industry in a range of areas, including contract research, consultancy, professional training, patents and spin-off activity. Certainly there have been exciting developments in other institutions, most notably the Institutes of Life Sciences and Advanced Communications at Swansea.

However, it is clear from the official statistics that the other institutions in Wales need to significantly raise their game when it comes to engaging with industry.

It could be argued that this is down to lack of funding, but over £56 million of Objective One grants has been attracted by the rest of the university sector for projects related to links with business during the last six years and yet Cardiff still leads the way.

As politicians keep telling us, Wales needs to create greater linkages between university and industry to develop a strong knowledge-based economy that can compete globally, and Cardiff is setting a glowing example to the rest of the sector.

Whether the other institutions can follow in their footsteps or whether a new model of engagement is needed between industry and academia is something that both policymakers and university managers should ponder.

One thing is certain, greater priority needs to be placed on ensuring that we maximise the potential of our entire academic sector for the benefit of the business community.

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