This time, the Comprehensive Spending Review is personal. George Osborne has gone public with his personal commitment to science at a recent visit to the site of the Francis Crick Institute, and following that there's been widespread speculation about how far that commitment will stretch. But with all the personal commitments made by ministers, ring fencing agreements and the like, it remains to be seen the extent to which these fine words will materialize into genuine action. So in the face of the Treasury's bruised finances we will really see the depth of George's commitment.
Meanwhile, his Conservative party colleague and London supremo Boris Johnson has been lauding praise on universities as 'a huge source of revenue for our country' and in boosting productivity. Even the Bank of England's Andrew Haldene has joined the party with his thoughts on how higher education can be the perfect foil for the short-term tendencies of markets. Universities and the research they produce are the saviour to economic malaise du jour, it seems.
Joking aside, it is gratifying to see senior Government figures at last talking up universities and bringing the case for how they contribute to the economy into the mainstream. In this year's CSR, I'd like to see this taken further, with a commitment to using public funds to further leverage private investment in research, and further collaboration between businesses and universities to commercialise research faster and more effectively. The Research Partnership Investment Fund (RPIF), for example, is an unusually good government scheme, which does this by matching private investment with government funding. The scheme has already supported 20 major initiatives and generated £1bn new funding for research. It's a good start.
Our universities in London are already playing a leading role in this area, known as knowledge exchange, and further investment would pay big dividends in terms of boosting the economy. A recent survey of the Higher Education Statistics Agency data by London Higher showed that last year, London's higher education sector generated around £850m of knowledge exchange income, some 25% of the UK's £3.4bn total. This included nearly 5,300 patents, supporting almost 1,400 active spin-outs and start-ups.
As Andrew Haldene says, universities also have a valuable role to play in the future of the City. Short-termism there has had - and could continue to have - very serious effects on our economy. Universities provide a different perspective; a vision of how longer-term investment in productive assets like IP can reap dividends and bring benefits to society at large. With some research and innovation, like that shown in the development of the 3G auction by UCL economists, we could provide further competitive advantage to the financial giants in London.
But perhaps the most notable shift in recent times for universities has been their move to a much more active role in supporting innovation. Many of London's universities support and invest in London's thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in areas such as digital and biotechnology. This support is through research collaboration, but also direct support programmes like business accelerators, innovation hothouses, advice and mentoring schemes for start-ups and small businesses.
So come Wednesday I would like to see George Osborne take action to match his fine words and bolster his commitment to research and to universities. We have plenty of evidence that such an approach delivers immediate, medium and long term economic benefits. Our higher education sector is an oft-overlooked powerhouse of the economy; a compelling investment proposition for UK PLC.
So come on, George. Stay true to your word.
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