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REF impact weighting should be raised to 25 per cent, says Witty

A recommendation that the weighting for impact in the Research Excellence Framework should be raised from 20 per cent to 25 per cent, included in an earlier draft of the Witty review of universities and growth, has made it to the final version of the report.

The government commissioned review, written by GSK chief executive Andrew Witty, was published on 15 October. Research Fortnight reported on 14 October that the recommendation was understood to have been included in an early draft of the review.

The review argues that a boost in impact weighting would incentivise universities to stimulate business activity. It says universities can and should do far more to stimulate economic growth and suggests that universities adopt a third mission of stimulating business, alongside existing missions of research and education.

“Universities have extraordinary potential to enhance economic growth,” reads the report. “Universities should report their ‘third mission’ activity, for inclusion in an annual report to the government which also identifies impediments to this activity, with recommendations as to where the government could act to remove these. Each year the government should publish its response to these reports and recommendations.”

The report calls for the government to establish a £1-billion fund for so-called ‘arrow projects’, in which universities would lead the commercialisation of a research-based technology and stimulate local economic activity. The £1bn could be new money or diverted from existing funds, Witty says, and it would be spread over the five years of the next parliament.

Proposed arrow project consortia would win funding if they can show that the UK has a comparative advantage in international markets with the technology they aim to commercialise; if the collaboration includes research centres, Local Enterprise Partnerships or private sector partners; and if the bid is based on sound research, development or economic outcome metrics. “Most weight should be given to proposals which advance the industrial strategy,” says the report.

Witty also recommends a central database of research strengths is made available to prospective investors in research. “This should include identifying research by sector and technology, and where possible by the businesses and charities funding it,” reads the report. “It should also include further development of indicators such as citation-based measures of research strength by sector.”

The Higher Education Innovation Fund also receives attention in the report: Witty recommends that it should be boosted from around £150 million a year to £250m. He adds that the scheme should be adjusted to press institutions receiving HEIF money to show how all small  and medium-sized businesses that could benefit from working with the institution are enabled to do so.

Also for small businesses, Witty proposes that every university should do more to open up its research base. “Universities should put in place a single point of entry for SMEs that triages their needs and directs them to the relevant part of the university,” reads the report. “This point of entry should also look to drive up SME demand and engagement, and work with external partners across the locality, as well as within the university.”

The report recommends that Local Enterprise Partnerships direct a larger share of the €1bn (£847m) they receive in European Structural and Investment Funds towards research and universities; that LEPs with a university in their area should appoint a representative of that university to their board; and that the missions of the Technology Strategy Board and UK Trade and Investment should also be steered towards the goal of achieving growth using universities.