Businesses must put more cash into commercialising top tech R&D from universities, say MPs

 
Lynsey Barber
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MPs have urged closer ties between business and universities (Source: Getty)

Businesses have been told to increase their investment in the world-class research and development which goes on in UK universities by MPs, to bring innovations to market and bring it in line with other countries.

Members of the science and technology committee have called for a greater focus on the demands of business rather than the supply of research being done by universities, in a fresh report.

“Without a healthy commercial demand for R&D, the scope for universities to engage more in technology transfer is limited," said MP and committee chair Stephen Metcalfe.

Read more: Robotics, 5G and everything promised for tech in the Budget

"Progress on this front is disappointing. The overall R&D intensity of the UK business sector is still too low compared to other OECD countries. Encouraging British business to invest more in UK R&D should be a key goal of the Government's Industrial Strategy."

Meanwhile, it identified that R&D tax credits, while a good tool, are currently too complex and urged the government to consider simplifying the scheme in a review, first announced in the Autumn Statement last year.

The MPs commended the government's renewed focus on efforts to commercialise the innovation being done at institutions across the country in its Industrial Strategy, however, with ambitions for creating a Darpa-style programme of collaboration.

Read more: Here's exactly what the £2bn boost for UK R&D entails

But, the report concluded it needs to go further than the creation of a new body, UK Research and Innovation which will bring various agencies into one, and the Industrial Strategy Fund, which will put more cash behind cutting edge tech such as robotics, to break a cycle of many reviews on the matter in recent years, but little real progress in overcoming obstacles.

“The UK lags behind competitors on R&D spending, so the committee hits the right note in their call for more investment. In this, the private sector and government both have a major role to play," said the CBI's head of digital and innovation Felicity Burch.

“Collaboration between businesses and universities can help the UK make a better job of not just delivering ground-breaking research here, but also commercialising those products. Making this a reality is a complex task and so the committee rightly highlights the value of the R&D tax credit and grants to business.”

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