£50 million boost for universities to stimulate UK’s economy

15 May 2013

Some of England’s leading universities will benefit from a £50 million investment in cutting-edge research and innovation projects to drive growth, Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts has announced.

Sixteen schemes [Note 1] at institutions across the country have been allocated a share of the money from HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund, to work with businesses and support the UK’s economic recovery [Note 2].

Between them the projects are expected to contribute to the creation of more than 500 new companies, 1,200 products and 3,000 jobs, and help contribute to more than £3 billion to the UK’s economy.

Announcing the investment, the Minister said:

‘Universities and colleges are vital to the UK’s economy. This extra £50 million will harness the potential for growth across the regions, focus on our world-class industrial sectors, and create a skilled workforce for the future. It will support cutting-edge innovation and research projects and keep us ahead in the global race.’

The Technology Strategy Board was involved in the selection process, and universities and colleges submitting proposals were asked to consider in particular the ways in which projects could link with the board’s priorities [Note 3].

The projects address a number of the Government’s key growth priorities [Note 4].

Industrial strategy

Projects support priority growth and industrial strategy sectors and technologies, including:

  • advanced manufacturing
  • energy (including clean-tech and the green agenda)
  • digital and creative
  • big data
  • space
  • agri-science and agri-technology
  • life sciences, healthcare and regenerative medicine.

Local economic growth

Many projects address the agenda set in the Heseltine Review [Note 5] to address local economic growth, with strong links to local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships and commitment to supporting local innovation. As an example, Sheffield University will extend its approach to collaboration with industry from its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre into new areas – healthcare technologies and the creative and digital sectors. This is intended to stimulate growth in the Sheffield City Region, which has one of theUK’s highest concentrations of medical device companies.

Investment and exports

Other projects address the Government’s aim to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy. Lancaster University graduates will work with 400 local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help develop advanced low-carbon and digital manufacturing products to export to China, based on the University’s partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and links between local governments in Lancashire and Guangdong province. Arts University Bournemouth will work with its major partner Framestore and the wider visual effects industry to ensure that there are sufficient national and local skills to continue the UK’s lead in the global growth of the industry.


All 16 projects contribute to the aim in the Plan for Growth to create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe [Note 4]. Projects address the needs: to provide the skills that industry needs, through links with, for example, University Technology Colleges, Sector Skills Councils, Higher Apprenticeships and the UK Catapult Centres; to support graduate employability and new approaches to creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators; to ensure that postgraduates and early career researchers have the skills to work with industry; and to develop the high-value skills of those in key industry sectors such as engineering and manufacturing. As an example, Coventry University will create a new Manufacturing Academy in partnership with the Unipart group and its supply chain, which will significantly increase jobs in high-value, low-carbon manufacturing. The aim is to create 620 new jobs, enhancing the image of theWest Midlands as a world-leading engineering area.


Some projects address the growth plan aim to significantly increase the scale and appetite for entrepreneurship in the UK, making the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business. As an example, University College London will work with Cambridge and the Cell Therapy and High-Value Manufacturing Catapult Centres to use the first open innovation bioscience campus – GlaxoSmithKline’s Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst. One aim of the project will be to establish a range of collaborative training programmes to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs and researchers, particularly in the area of drug discovery pathways.

The projects in total aim to create significant economic impact, including:

  • £50.9 million in private sector match funding (in cash and kind)
  • 535 new companies formed (graduate start-ups and spin-outs)
  • 1,200 innovations (new products and processes)
  • 3,120 jobs created (including high-value jobs and new graduate employment opportunities)
  • £76 million in future additional research and development activity, and £2 million in future licensing revenue
  • more than £3 billion Gross Value Added to the UK Economy.

Projects were selected by a panel of members of HEFCE’s Board and Catalyst Panel, and of the Technology Strategy Board [Note 6].

Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE Chief Executive, said:

‘This portfolio of projects shows the ingenuity, determination and diversity of the higher education sector’s response to supporting economic growth. Universities and colleges are playing to their strengths: whether in developing the green economy in Brighton and Hastings, improving the productivity of the food and drinks industry in Sheffield, or improving communications connectivity like Surrey University’s Catapults link-up in “5G”.

‘In addition to the immediate growth opportunities, these projects provide a foundation for the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy. They address key issues, such as encouraging the interest of young engineers in high-value and advanced manufacturing, and they promote economic resilience through innovation, supporting high-growth potential in business. Critically, they also support the development of the next generation of entrepreneurs.’ 


  1. The full list of projects comprises:

    University of Nottingham: The project will provide an Enhanced Innovation Programme for the potential applications of satellite technologies, which are ‘virtually limitless […] taking satellite navigation as an example, keeping track of location will soon be just as important as knowing the time of day’. Some of these applications could lead to infrastructure-less rail signalling, driverless cars and more effective time-critical financial services. The project will also develop new models for working with the UK Catapults, linking with the Satellite Applications Catapult and other universities expert in the satellites field to strengthenUK innovation, enterprise, employability and skills. It will also utilise a European opportunity, the European Satellite Navigation Competition, to increase the commercialisation of the research.

    Lancaster University: The University project will exemplify how to use the strong international reputation and links of UK universities to help exports in other industrial sectors. The project addresses the Government's priorities to focus on high-growth SMEs and to increase exports. It focuses on improved leadership in SMEs in key technology sectors – low-carbon, advanced manufacturing and creative and digital technologies – to penetrate Chinese markets. It will also help develop a local-global partnership between Lancashire and the Guangdong province of China.

    Sheffield Hallam University: The University will develop a National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering working closely with industrial partners including Cargill, Dalehead Foods, Mars, McCain Foods, Nestlé, Premier Foods, Warburtons and William Jackson Food Group who will contribute equipment, facilities, mentors or advisers. The project addresses a recent finding that many food manufacturing plants suffer from a lack of skills amongst engineers to identify and rectify breakdowns. The Centre will be fully operational by 2017, and will see the University become a leading education provider for the food and drink industry, providing state of the art facilities and creating a supply of skilled engineers. The Centre has an ambitious target to help add £1billion in Gross Value Added to the food and drink industry, as well as to get more graduates engaged in the industry.

    The University of Surrey: The project addresses the opportunities of mobile communications traffic which is doubling worldwide every year, anticipating that ‘the world will be fully connected and future economies will be driven by the extent of such connectivity.’ It aims to make the UK a world leader in this area by creating an Innovation Gateway linking the Connected Digital Economy Catapult with the Surrey International Development Centre for Fifth-Generation (‘5G’) Mobile Communications and the Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell. The project will develop joint academic-industry programmes to train a new generation of researchers in this field. Major industry partners include the BBC, Aeroflex, Mycom and Everything Everywhere Ltd (EE).

    The University of Sussex: The project will create a Catalyst Team in the successful Sussex Innovation Centre, with a view to developing student placements and internships in the innovative new technology businesses based there. The businesses will gain from flexible resource to solve up-to-date business problems, while the students will develop entrepreneurial skills and academic knowledge while opening up new career directions in high-growth businesses.

    Arts University Bournemouth: The project will extend the University’s existing strong collaboration with Framestore and the wider visual effects industry. The UK has led global growth in visual effects, and the project aims to help maintain this lead against strong international competition through the development of skilled and experienced people. The Building the Bridge project will include mentoring of higher education (HE) students by the visual effects industry, professional development of visual effects employees and academic-industry staff exchanges, together with a central employability hub.

    Coventry University: The university will establish a Manufacturing Institute as part of a formal partnership with the Unipart Manufacturing Group, with the twin aims of developing innovative approaches to education, training and research in engineering, and stimulating the Unipart supply chain and the wider high-value manufacturing sector across the UK. The project includes design and implementation of a new dedicated academy building on the Unipart site in Coventry, together with new courses and training developments, joint academic-industry appointments and research and development, and technology road-mapping. The project will support the ambition of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for 5,000 new or upskilled engineers by 2015, and increases in the numbers of SMEs active in research and development in the area.

    Cranfield University: The Operations Excellence Initiative will create a simulator as part of a unique learning environment so that students in HE and further education can experience industrial workplace situations, making them much more ready for work in the manufacturing industry. This will include physical and virtual collaboration spaces, which will inspire and interest students in collaborative engineering and solve real-world problems. This will include co-operation with small to medium-sized businesses, and with international exemplars of best practice – including universities and technical institutes in South Korea, India and Germany. The project has the support of the South East Midlands LEP, and aims to draw in wider LEP support for SME manufacturing clusters in the area.

    Royal College of Art (with Imperial College London): The project will develop the Healthcare Innovation Exchange (HELIX) Centre as a joint initiative of the two universities. It will focus on establishing multi-disciplinary approaches to design-led innovation embedded in a clinical environment, including providing facilities and the training and development of design-focused health and business leaders. The aim is to transform healthcare, with a focus on improved patient care and making the UK a global business hub for healthcare innovation. The centre will build on international good practice with links to overseas developments such as Stanford University, the design practice Ideo in Silicon Valley and the Indian business group Tata.

    The University of Brighton: The Green Growth Platform will link the knowledge assets of the University with 1,000 high-growth-potential SMEs and private, public and third-sector partners, with the aims of supporting innovation, addressing skills shortages and improving growth in low-carbon environmental goods and services. It will address four areas: sustainable buildings and retrofit; renewable energy; recycling and waste; and water. The project links two of Sussex’s most dynamic growth areas, Brighton and Crawley, and specifically addresses a key aspect of Brighton’s City Deal – exploiting the potential of the city to be an economic powerhouse in ecological technologies. Private companies involved include British Gas, Mears, Southern Water, Ricardo, South Downs Solar, Downs Energy, Geo-Environmental Engineering, and the Eco Technology Show.

    The University of Sheffield: The university aims to take a successful model for industry-academic research collaboration, the Advanced Manufacturing Centre (part of the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult), and extend it into two important areas for the Sheffield City Region economy – healthcare technologies and the digital sector. Activity will focus on collaborative research and applied research and development, graduate entrepreneurship and postgraduate applied studentships. Private sector partners include ARM, Zoo Digital, Wandisco, Boeing, Accenture, Mott Macdonald, IBM, Thales, Costain, Sandvik, Starrag, Carpenter, Mori Seike and Alpha rooms. The project has the support of the Sheffield City Region LEP.

    Anglia Ruskin University: The project aims to improve graduate job opportunities and careers, and to enhance the innovation potential of SMEs through graduate recruitment and retention. It responds to the needs of SMEs in the area: ‘We desperately need young talent. We get a handful of applications only per year from graduates.’ The project will aim to improve recruitment into SMEs through central support, but will also help businesses retain and use higher-level talent more effectively through supporting cohorts of new SME graduate entrants.

    The Open University: The project will draw together multiple partners to create a Milton Keynes Data Hub, with a view to exploring the solutions to urban problems through data storage and sharing, as well as creating economic growth in the Milton Keynes area. The hub will bring together a number of universities (including Cambridge and Bedfordshire), Catapults (initially Satellites Applications), commercial companies and local government to build and operate a data hub to solve the demand problems of cities in terms of critical areas of transport, energy and water. The Hub will also provide a resource for student and SME entrepreneurship and the exploitation of commercial opportunities, and will explore the commercialisation of the underlying data platform as an integrated city system. British Telecom and Dell will work with the university to build the data hub, with the local authority as the trusted data custodian.

    University College London (UCL): The project aims to ensure that the world-leading research base at UCL and partners, such as Cambridge, connects with industry to identify new candidates for therapeutic drugs, together with the processes by which these will ultimately be manufactured. The project will bring together an innovative partnership of universities and two Catapult Centres (Cell Therapy and High-Value Manufacturing) to use the first open innovation bioscience campus – GlaxoSmithKline’s Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst. It focuses on creating an advanced industry cluster and developing the next generation of entrepreneurs and researchers.

    The University of Warwick: The project addresses the need at all levels to develop better industry-relevant skills, but particularly a chronic and growing shortage of graduate engineers for engineering and advanced manufacturing. The project will address this by stimulating a new industry-funded undergraduate programme, with novel managed learning environment which will focus on the latest technologies and be taken partly in the workplace, including through Higher Apprenticeships. It will build on the Warwick manufacturing group’s strength in applied research and novel developments at postgraduate level, particularly focussing on the automotive sector (with Jaguar Land Rover as an initial co-investor). Students will undertake international projects with technical universities and institutes in China, India, Singapore and the USA.

    Guildford College: The college, working with East Surrey College and Tannery Studios, the local creative industries incubation hub, will develop new courses to address skills needs in the local area. This will build on the success of the Surrey area as a central hub for large- and small-scale companies in the UK’s games and interactive media industries. The aim is for the foundation degree courses to achieve accreditation with Skillset as meeting industry requirements, and to meet the Enterprise M3 LEP’s priority for level 4 skills.

    Those projects selected will now work up full business proposals for funding decisions in the summer.

  2. HEFCE’s role in supporting higher education’s contribution to economic growth includes the following.
    1. HEFCE’s core streams of recurrent funding for research, teaching, knowledge exchange, regulation and information are intended to have a profound effect in contributing to longer-term growth. The Council is committed to evaluating the impact of these core activities to ensure that they support, and do not create barriers against, economic growth.
    2. The Council is committed to an additional investment programme to strengthen support to the core. In addition to the current competitive round of the Catalyst Fund, this includes a supplement of £10 million to the Council’s Knowledge Exchange funding in 2013-14 and 2014-15, to enhance strategies where the cap on knowledge exchange funding is constraining contributions to growth. The HEFCE Board has approved the individual allocations which are available on the HEFCE web-site.
    3. HEFCE is establishing a new business-led advisory group to review and advise on all its activities to support growth.
    4. HEFCE works in partnership, particularly with the Technology Strategy Board, Research Councils UK and the new National Centre for Universities and Business, announced by the Government in its response to the Wilson Review.
  3. Institutions submitting proposals could include activities meeting the following joint objectives of HEFCE and the Technology Strategy Board:
    1. Collaborative arrangements that enable deeper engagement between institutions and business, and promote activities that align with the Technology Strategy Board’s national priorities.
    2. Innovative approaches for collaborations between institutions to work within the aims and objectives of Technology Strategy Board Catapult Centres.
    3. Innovative approaches that align institutional innovation voucher schemes with the Technology Strategy Board’s national programme.
  4. The Government’s Plan for Growth was published in March 2011.
  5. ‘No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth’, an independent report by Lord Heseltine with recommendations on how to increase UK growth, published by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in March 2013.
  6. The selection panel was: David Sweeney, HEFCE Director Research, Innovation and Skills (Chair); Alastair Balls, HEFCE Catalyst Panel member and Chair of the Centre for Life; Professor Shirley Pearce, HEFCE Board, Catalyst Panel member and former Vice-Chancellor of Loughborough University; Dr Allyson Reed, Technology Strategy Board and Director, Research Base; and Anil Ruia, HEFCE Board, Catalyst Panel member and Director, Wrengate Ltd.

Page last updated 15 May 2013

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