Recognise universities as ‘local economic anchors’

More than a third of all UK universities and colleges have failed to produce a single business start-up to boost the local economy, according to a new report.

Think tank Localis found that while universities are responsible for creating more than 4,200 businesses a year, a large number (35%) have no record of supporting graduates start their own companies.

The report, called Place, Learning and Entrepreneurialism: The impact of Entrepreneurialism on Regional Economies, argues that universities should provide a ‘swing door’ to help businesses get started and give every student the opportunity to develop enterprise and entrepreneurship skills.

It cites the example of Kingston University in London where a fifth of business start-ups in the borough have links to the higher education body.

The report calls for higher education bodies open up workspaces to incubation units to support local firms and calls on ministers to recognise the position of universities as ‘local economic anchors’ in devolution deals and local economic strategies.

The report highlights the large variations in the amount of financial support which universities can attract to start-up businesses.

Graduate start-ups in London institutions, for example, receive eight times the external investment of their Yorkshire counterparts.

‘Our comparison between universities in London and Yorkshire reinforces this disparity in external investment, with graduate start-ups at London institutions attracting £35.5m in 2015/16 against just £1.3m for those at Yorkshire universities, a factor of almost eight times as much on average per institution,’ said report author, David Godfrey.

‘Through the support of university entrepreneurship in local industrial strategies, there is a major opportunity for local leadership in bringing good ideas together with London investment by successfully packaging start-up schemes to investors, as Manchester has successfully done.’

The report comes as many university chancellors and vice chancellors are under fire for their salaries.

It calls on vice chancellors to work with their local enterprise partnerships, local authorities and directly-elected mayors to package regional opportunities to pitch to investors.

‘As the government’s national and local industrial strategy is implemented, this report presents a shared agenda for enterprise and entrepreneurship education, building on the comparison between London and Yorkshire universities to reinforce the role of universities as local economic anchors,’ the report states.

The chief executive of Localis, Liam Booth-Smith, said: ‘The unfortunate truth is that too many UK universities simply do not act in this space.

‘With the risks, challenges and opportunities that Brexit presents, promoting enterprise and entrepreneurship in our universities should be an important part of the government’s national policy agenda and central to the development of local industrial strategy.’

  • To read the full report, click here


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