A recent report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation titled Contributors and Detractors: Ranking Countries’ Impact on Global Innovation, placed the UK as the third best place in the world for innovation; behind Finland and Sweden but ranked higher than the United States, France and Germany.
Human Capital – which addresses the quality and quantity of universities, number of STEM graduates and number of researchers – was identified as a particular strength. Further evidence of the strength of our universities was provided in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which placed the UK second best in university rankings earlier this year.
With innovation seen as a key driver of economic growth, the ‘innovation engine’ represented by our universities appears to be an opportunity that is being missed by businesses across Midlands Engine area. Based on recent data from South East Midlands LEP; only 12% of businesses across the spectrum actively engage in R&D activity with universities. Engagement is skewed to larger businesses where 39% employ more than 100 people to work with universities. With SMEs accounting for 99% of all businesses, if we encourage greater engagement from the smaller end of businesses, it seems translating our innovative concepts into new products and services would be even more effective. It is recognised that SMEs grow 8% faster if they engage with academe; so to power the ‘Engine’ we need to drive such engagement.
Science Parks could be key to this, by providing focal points for all the knowledge economy drivers. With 28 of them placed in Midlands Engine catchment area, they could be well positioned to be a catalytic role in promoting further innovation in the region. They surely need to be identified as important components of the region’s innovation ecology in the upcoming innovation audits.