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NICOLA DANDRIDGE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, UNIVERSITIES UK

Our universities are engines for growth – through the graduates that come out of university, through the world-leading research they produce, and through a global export industry that brings in an estimated £7 billion to the UK economy in contributions from international students alone. The UK is a global leader in research – second only to the US in its size and impact – and our universities are highly sought after destinations for students from all over the world. But we cannot be complacent.

To reflect this, we have suggested a series of practical steps that an incoming government could take to support the future success of our universities.

  • Investment in research and innovation;
  • Attracting qualified international students and staff to the UK;
  • Developing a sustainable student funding system.

You can find out more about the steps we recommend that an incoming government takes at www.backuniversities.org.uk

Included in our recommendations is an enhanced role for universities in supporting innovation by working with local businesses and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). At the moment, there are more than 100 university science and enterprise parks across the UK which act as clusters for local jobs by attracting businesses to the area in which they are based. Collaborative research to the value of £951 million was undertaken by universities in 2012-13, and research contracts with industry were worth £291 million. While there will always be a need for some emergency funding to support essential reactive maintenance triggered by unforeseen events, the next government should allocate as much funding as it can at the outset. This will give local authorities greater scope to improve the overall road condition and reduce the impact of subsequent extreme conditions.

Policy around local growth, and in particular the continuation of the LEPs, attracts more cross-party consensus than many other areas, and we believe that universities have a vital role to play here. Not only can our universities help drive cross-LEP collaboration, they can also work with SMEs, multinational companies and local authorities, and help deliver skills and jobs to the local economy.

To support this, we are calling on the next government to increase funds to the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) – one of the key recommendations of the government’s report on universities and growth, written by Sir Andrew Witty. Compared to other government expenditure, the HEIF is modest in scale. Its returns, however, are huge. It also plays a significant role in supporting activities in knowledge transfer, engaging small and medium-sized enterprises, and working to support local economic growth.

We therefore want to work with the next government to ensure that this country’s universities can continue to provide the high-quality teaching and world-leading research for which we are recognised around the globe.