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Enough Adrenaline - Time for a Better Prescription for Economic Health

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Our economy has had its fair share of adrenaline shots in recent years, but nothing yet to get us out of intensive care.

No wonder, then, that the government has commissioned the Wilson Review in an attempt to make the UK the best place in the world for business and universities to work together - part of a prescription to nurse our economy back to health.

Our best universities have been working with businesses for years - collaborating on producing life-saving drugs, new medical devices, stronger and more durable materials; the list goes on. Yet there are many more ways in which we need to make sure all universities work well with business if they are truly to become the powerhouses of the economy that the government hopes. So what needs to change?

First we need to dispel preconceptions on both sides: on the one hand, there are a significant number of academics who are hostile to any business involvement in universities, seeing it as a pollutant destroying the purity of their research. On the other, some in business are too hasty to dismiss universities as ivory towers, producing nothing of any value other than weighty tomes useful for propping up wonky desks. Both stereotypes are wrong, and present a real and unnecessary obstacle to closer working. We need to do all we can to encourage it.

A greater commitment to exchange students and staff between universities and the business world would help. Some good schemes already exist but we really need to create many more opportunities for postgraduate students, and academics early in their careers, to work in a business environment - whether these are through paid work placements or more lengthy secondments. This will enable the professors of tomorrow to build relationships and gain new perspectives on how to develop excellent, high-impact research programmes which are also commercially successful.

Universities must also do more in helping to shape the entrepreneurs and business leaders of tomorrow. The students I meet at UCL are more commercially-savvy than ever, with many chomping at the bit to start their own businesses. We support them in every way we possibly can - with mentoring, start-up funds, and training from the best minds in their business.

Indeed, all universities must recognise that they can often have the biggest and most immediate impact for small businesses on their own doorstep. We must do more to reach out to these enterprises, especially those with the potential for massive growth and a capacity to generate much-needed new jobs - we need to help them become bigger and better, faster.

For us at UCL it means offering business bootcamps to budding entrepreneurs - enabling to acquire new skills and experience. It means bringing big and small businesses together to collaborate on new projects. Above all, it means recognising that small business really matters, both to London and our economy at large. Businesses up and down the land need help - often from the country's best minds - and every university across the nation must step up to offer this help whenever they can.

Some universities in the UK are working closely with business - but this should be standard at every university, helping to nurture our best talent today and enabling them to create the exciting new businesses and large corporations of tomorrow.

Aside from encouraging entrepreneurship, we also need to encourage our brightest and best students to broaden their horizons away from a narrow focus on employment with corporations towards small and medium-sized businesses.

Our oil and gas fields may be nearly dry and our heavy industry a fading memory, but our universities are goldmines of cutting-edge research, expert knowledge and entrepreneurial flair which can - and must - be better tapped for our long-term prosperity.

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