Sector trends

Maximise impact through collaboration

How universities and businesses are partnering to deliver growth.

London Higher is a membership organisation for universities and higher education colleges across the capital. Its 2023 report found that London’s higher education institutions make an essential contribution to the success of business and enterprise through people, research & development, local regeneration, and foreign direct investment.

“In 2024, as we navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by technological advancements, environmental concerns, geopolitical concerns and evolving market demands, collaboration is key to unlocking a prosperous and sustainable future,” said Barrie Davison, our National Sector Head for Healthcare, Education, Local Authorities and Charities.

The strongest partnerships are built on shared values, goals and visions for the future

As collaborators in a shared vision for innovation, growth, and societal advancement, the relationship between the higher education sector and businesses can be mutually beneficial, noted Barrie. “It’s crucial to the future viability of our education system and the UK economy. The strongest partnerships are those built on shared values, goals, and visions for the future.”

Addressing the UK’s skills shortages

The Chair of London Higher and Vice Chancellor and President of the University of East London, Professor Amanda Broderick shared how higher education institutions are an essential element in providing the skilled, productive, diverse workforce businesses need to succeed in local, national, and international markets.

“As we navigate the complexities of the modern world in constant flux, the importance of higher education in equipping individuals with the knowledge and skills needed for success cannot be overstated.”

How research and development provides solutions to challenges

Last year’s report highlighted the critical role of universities in driving world class research and innovation in an era defined by rapid technological advancement.

“Our universities are hot beds of ground-breaking research, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and fuelling the engine of innovation that propels the country forward, whether that be in fighting climate change, creating vaccines or better understanding how to support vulnerable children in their earliest years,” said Amanda.

Maximising impact through collaboration

Lord Bilimoria, the Founder of Cobra Beer and Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, described how he came up with the idea for Cobra when he was an international student at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

And how the University of Birmingham and UK leasing firm Porterbrook, and the University and manufacturer Rolls-Royce, collaborated on technologies and innovations that address environmental challenges and help put UK innovation on the map.

“For the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Prince Charles travelled on the HydroFLEX, the UK’s first retrofitted hydrogen-powered passenger train, which shows the power of collaboration,” said Lord Bilimoria. “And the University of Birmingham has won an award for its work with Rolls-Royce to deliver engine efficiencies using advanced metallic alloys for turbine blades and discs at the heart of the aeroengine.

“Half of the jet engines in the world are manufactured by GE. Half are Rolls-Royce, made in collaboration with the University of Birmingham. That’s the power of universities and business working together.”

How collaboration and networks can be productive

Howard Dawber, Deputy Mayor for Business at London City Hall, shared practical examples of the power of partnerships. He described how the London Anchor Institutions’ Network, comprising organisations across the public sector, business, trade unions and community groups, convened to lead London's recovery from the pandemic.

“Now, we’re using this amazing, productive network of businesses and public sector institutions to work together on things like apprenticeships and climate change. The higher education sector is an absolutely crucial part of how London is going to grow.”

Partnerships stimulate growth

Universities nurture ideas that can be made real in this world, said Professor Shitij Kapur, Vice Chancellor and President of King’s College London. “King’s, for example, has joined with several London universities to host London Demo Day, where students come and show their entrepreneurial ideas. Since 2019, 45 ventures have come out of Demo Day, externally funded to the tune of £155m.”

“We also share insights. An example is the Decision Maker Panel, which was set up by the Bank of England, Stanford University and the University of Nottingham in August 2016 in the wake of Brexit, when there was a lot of worry as to what would happen to our business sector.”

So far, over 9,000 executives from small, medium, and large UK companies from a broad range of industries explore questions on policy issues and provide valuable insights into perceptions of challenges and opportunities facing the UK economy.

“Then there’s the clusters. If you go to the Knowledge Court of London around King's Cross, for example, you'll find a well-established cluster of research and innovation-based organisations – universities, science institutions, companies and start-ups - working together to make the area an epicentre of knowledge-based businesses to stimulate economic growth.

“We’re providing bright young people who become the leaders of tomorrow. And increasingly, we are partnering in new ways that we never did before.”

Case study: John Smith Group

Peter Gray, Chairman and Chief Executive of JS Group, which manages student bursaries, scholarships, emergency cash and other student financial support, described how the business has been working and partnering with universities since 1751.

“We have heard today how vital universities are in developing the workforce of tomorrow, how economically important they are in and of themselves, as a magnet for inward investment, and the way world class research can lead to world class enterprises.

“By working together in a positive and proactive way, the more value is added for London and the nation at large. London and the UK need a thriving higher education sector and everyone will be aware of the challenges facing many universities as outlined in the recent PwC’s 2024 Report, Financial Sustainability of the UK Higher Education Sector.

“Those challenges are not going away anytime soon. By engaging and partnering and tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit, we can really make a difference.”


For a deep dive into the megatrends shaping business in 2024, please view our six megatrends article

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