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Northern universities launch industry-innovation forum

The N8 Research Partnership of eight northern English universities has launched an industry innovation forum to promote collaborations between industry and academia.

The initiative aims to “maximise linkages and market pull between private sector R&D, industrial and consumer needs and the world class research base in the UK”.

The N8 partnership was launched in 2007, aiming to match and complement the research power of the Oxford, Cambridge and the London golden triangle. It comprises the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York.

Forum events will focus on specific themes, chosen by businesses. The first meeting, to be held on 1 February 2012, will address advanced materials. The meeting will aim to connect industry with current possibilities in research and create new partnerships.

Partners of the forum are the N8 universities and companies including AstraZeneca, the National Nuclear Laboratory, Procter & Gamble, Siemens, Smith & Nephew and Unilever. It is to be funded jointly by the N8 and the Technology Strategy Board.

Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield and chairman of the N8 partnership told Research Fortnight that the idea of the project is really to make it “as easy as possible for a group of industrial companies to work up a research agenda with us”.

“The point really is how we get really fabulous projects across the institutions and there might be maybe one, two, three or four, industrial partners in that area,” he says.

He adds that although the forum currently has large companies as partners, it is looking to expand it to include SMEs in the future.

“It can be easier to engage at the first level with larger companies but then what we explicitly want to do is advertise that environment to SMEs. It is not an exclusive club but actually more of a supply chain of ideas,” he says.

“We have listened to our industry partners, and we are designing the forum so that their innovation needs can be matched with possibilities from the science base,” said Trevor McMillan, pro vice-chancellor for research at Lancaster University and chairman of the N8 pro vice chancellors group.