February 28, 2012

The Landscape of business–university collaboration


3.1 Introduction
3.2 Landscape and domains
3.3 Relationship management and the emergence of strategic partnerships

Case study: Siemens – University of Lincoln
Case study: Proctor and Gamble – Durham University
Case study: BAE systems – University of Bristol
3.4 Collaborative advantage
3.5 First enquiry connectivity
3.6 Responsiveness of universities to business needs
3.7 Reflections
3.1 Introduction
The landscape of business–university collaboration is hugely diverse; it has grown immensely in both
breadth and depth since the 2003 Lambert Review, as the content of this Review demonstrates.
However, the totality of evidence collected during this Review cannot be reflected in a single
document; the vast majority of the submitted work will receive neither praise nor acknowledgement
here, but that does not diminish its quality or its impact.

3.2 Landscape and domains
The landscape of collaboration consists of a wide variety of domains where there is real expertise
and strength, often of a highly specialist kind. These domains are wide ranging:

•From future-oriented research in advanced technologies, to in-house upskilling of
•From university science park developments, to support for entrepreneurial research
students finding their way in the business world;
•From providing progression routes to higher-level apprenticeships, to enhancing the skills of
post doctoral staff for their transition into the business world;
•From improving enterprise skills amongst our undergraduates, to enabling small companies
to recognise the value of employing a first graduate;
•From supporting spin-out companies from research teams, to helping government agencies
attract major employers to invest in the UK.
Whilst the teaching, enterprise and research domains are familiar within the university sector,
domains for business collaboration are not defined solely by a typology of activity; they may be
defined by a professional field, an industry or by specialisation within an industry, particularly in
research. No one university operates in all domains within the landscape. Some specialist institutions
will operate in very few; it is for each university to make a strategic decision about its domains of

During this Review, it has become increasingly clear that many individuals and organisations working
within this landscape have detailed knowledge of specific domains but limited or no knowledge of
other domains, or even knowledge of their existence. This is understandable, and indeed may be
considered a strength, as further development within the specialist domains of business–university
collaboration requires a focused approach. However, in the context of broader policy formulation,
knowledge of the entire landscape is absolutely critical if we are to realise the full potential of
universities in supporting UK economic growth. Without that broader knowledge, economic policy
cannot be reliably informed by evidence, good practice cannot be readily disseminated, and the
supply chain of high-level skills, innovation and research from universities to business will continue
to be incoherent and suboptimal. Further, at a time when economic growth is our greatest priority,
and the contribution that universities make to the economy is under intense scrutiny, inadequate
knowledge of that landscape is untenable. Without such knowledge there is a risk that positions
are derived from narrow personal experience or information provided by an interested third party,
uninformed by a wider understanding of the landscape. There is a pressing need for government,

businesses and universities alike to recognise this context and to commit to a collaborative approach
to ensure the linkage of partial areas of knowledge and a full understanding of the landscape is
developed and maintained.

However, currently, there is no substantive national forum where such knowledge is assembled and
can be consulted. There is no reliable information base that can be a reference point for business,
universities and government alike; that can provide objective analysis and advice and that can
operate outside a lobbying environment.

An organisation that operates only in a limited set of domains within the landscape cannot have the
breadth of interest to represent the entire landscape and clearly, sector interests and obligations
prevent either a business-, or a university-led organisation from fulfilling such a role. Such a forum
has to be one where business and university leaders sit as equals within its governance structure and
which covers the entire landscape.

The only forum that meets these criteria and has a distinct and comprehensive mission in this field
is the CIHE36; a subscription organisation that has evolved from being a think tank into a body that
undertakes research in specific areas of business–university collaboration. Critically, its governing
council includes many prominent business and university chief executives, people with standing and
authority in their organisations. It is respected within both the university and business communities
and its governance structure meets the criteria of representation, balance and objectivity. However,
presently it lacks capacity, which means that its potential value remains untapped. Such a forum
has the capability to become a prominent and systemic national influence upon future business–
university collaboration, policy and development, complementing the activities of sectoral, business,
academic and policy organisations that are active in this sphere and drawing on their expertise.

Recommendation 1

CIHE should be invited to develop its structure and its infrastructure to become an independent
subscription-based charity that becomes the focus for information on business–university
collaboration. It will gather and maintain a comprehensive repository of good practice, undertake
commissioned studies and provide a reliable information source for future substantive reviews.

Government may need to provide short-term funding to establish CIHE in this role.

3.3 Relationship management and the emergence of strategic partnerships
In terms of ongoing collaboration management, universities operate most frequently in a ‘one-
to-many’ model. A university will establish multiple partnerships, operating in the various
domains where it has expertise. The reciprocal model for a complex business is the partnership
with different universities for different domains of activity; corporates seek collaboration with
the university that best meets their needs in a particular field. The challenges are similar in the
context of risk management: there is potential for fragmentation of activity and an increasing
overhead of managing multiple relationships.

Clearly specific business needs require direct contact between the specialists within the business
and the specialists within the university, typically in research collaboration, in staff development
or in recruitment. For both parties there is a need for institutional knowledge of these multiple
relationships; for the university to ensure that its other domains of expertise are exposed to an
existing partner; for the business to ensure that it obtains optimum benefit from its knowledge
of the university sector and its expertise.

In some corporates, for example BAE systems, AstraZeneca, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ, and Glaxo
Smith Kline, this corporate knowledge is held within an executive position that has explicit
responsibility for university collaboration. This role is not only beneficial to the business but also
a clear reference point for university collaborators. In some other businesses the responsibility
and the contact points are less clear.

For some universities knowledge of business partnerships is also held at executive management
level, providing a clear reference point for business contact, regardless of the domain of
collaboration. In other universities that executive reference point is less clear.

I make no formal recommendation here; it is for business leaders to decide how they identify
the appropriate partners for their business needs and how they ensure that their connectivity
remains optimal. Similarly I make no recommendation about university structures in managing
collaboration; it is for the university to decide how it best manages its multiple relationships and
optimises its existing partnerships by extending its collaboration.

However, both business and university leaders may wish to reflect upon their institutional
knowledge of the full landscape of business–university collaboration, and on the management
of the partnerships that they have. For universities this reflection should extend to strategic
decisions concerning the domains that the university wishes to provide; for business it should
extend to matching their needs to those universities that best meet their requirements within the
appropriate domain.

In recent years a model of strategic partnerships has evolved whereby a single university is
able to meet the collaboration needs of a business in multiple domains. These are not exclusive
partnerships, but explicitly cover more than one domain with possibility of extension into
others. The potential efficiency of such partnerships is clear and the next substantive Review
may wish to assess their success.

Case study: Siemens – University of Lincoln
The Siemens–University of Lincoln partnership involves multiple layers across a broad spectrum
of activities. A collaborative R&D commissioning framework has generated six times the turnover
in the original business plan, with significant business benefits generated for the company and
research outcomes for the university, whilst protecting intellectual property and observing
commercial sensitivities. Siemans have co-located with Lincoln’s engineering department;
engaging in the teaching of students and in providing scholarships, internships and consultancy
projects, graduating ‘industry-ready’ students. The Siemens technology needs are reflected in
the Lincoln’s engineering undergraduate programmes and the partners have co-designed an MSc
Energy Renewables and Power.

Case study: Proctor and Gamble – Durham University
A Master Collaboration Agreement established Durham University as a core strategic research
partner of Proctor and Gamble (P&G). Durham was recognised by P&G as Global Business
Development University Partner of the Year in 2011 following an innovative approach in which
the research needs and research capabilities of both partners have been mapped and core

areas of mutual interest identified. More than 80 Durham academics are now linked with a
similar number of P&G researchers in locations ranging from Newcastle to Frankfurt, Brussels,
Beijing and Cincinnati in areas including surface sciences, biophysical sciences electronic goods,
manufacturing and consumer psychology. The partnership has already secured more than
£5.7 million in external funding for a series of projects and studentships with a similar volume
of projects currently under development with the company. The partnership has launched a
programme disseminating new ways of integrating industrial and academic teams through
existing collaborations of both partners and RCUK.

Case study: BAE systems – University of Bristol
BAE Systems and the University of Bristol have agreed a Memorandum of Understanding that
defines areas of strategic collaboration. The memorandum defines a wide range of activities
within areas of engineering and science where there is common interest in design, manufacture,
operation and through-life support and capability of engineered systems. It includes both long-
term fundamental research projects; medium/short-term projects requiring the application of
generic knowledge to specific issues; reciprocated staff secondments; supervision of projects and
theses by BAE staff at BEng, MEng and MSc levels; placements of the University’s MEng students
and postgraduate education through MSc, PhD (DTC and CASE), EngD.

3.4 Collaborative advantage
Many would argue that competition within the UK university sector has driven efficiency,
effectiveness and diversity over the last two decades whilst maintaining excellence. No one
university covers the entire landscape of university business collaboration, and yet each domain
is important to the businesses that rely upon it for their development. Diversity is a strength
of our university sector in that it enables specialisation in strengths; it ensures that the entire
spectrum of business support can be found somewhere within the university system.

Whilst it is the role of university leaders to promote the excellence of their own universities,
our university sector as a whole is a key asset in the economic future of our country. The
efforts of UUK to promote these strengths are admirable and regional associations, where
they exist, attempt to present a complementary profile of university missions. It would be
helpful if university leaders could emphasise the complementary strengths of UK universities
in terms of meeting business needs. Without mutual recognition of the expertise of others, the
competitiveness of UK universities has the potential to become a weakness.

Specifically, in terms of the reputation of the sector as a whole, it is critically important that
universities are open about the domains in which they operate and refer demands that they
cannot meet to another university or a source of guidance where such information may be
found. Collaboration between universities in supplying business needs can only benefit the
university sector as a whole. Universities may wish to reflect upon the concepts of collaborative
advantage in meeting business needs and review their policies on the referral of business
enquiries to other universities or relevant agencies.

Following the demise of the RDAs, many regional associations of universities closed; there was
no business need to collaborate on a regional basis. Others sustained their associations3738.

New alliances may be formed in order to supply a more comprehensive response to business
needs than any one university could achieve alone, recognising the strengths of diversity and
collaborative advantage. The recent N8 Research partnership39 has launched a new Industry
Innovation Forum working with global companies and SMEs. It is supported by the TSB and is
an example that may provide a template that others will follow. This is to be welcomed; but the
issue of a comprehensive coverage remains. Such partnerships have an obligation to ensure that
enquiries that are outside its domains of activity are referred to other universities, or consortia,
which may be able to meet those business requirements. I make no formal recommendations
in this regard but the consortia of universities may wish to consider how to ensure that such a
referral system is efficiently and effectively operated, and government funders of these consortia
may wish to reassure themselves that such systems are operational.

3.5 First enquiry connectivity
For the ‘first enquiry’ there are many routes into a university, both formally through direct
enquiry and informally through business networking. Every university website examined in this
Review has a portal for potential business clients, but the existence of such a portal does not
ensure efficient connectivity and development. Practice in enquiry management varies within
universities according to their structures, processes and procedures. Some universities rely
upon a centralised and monitored information flow with a comprehensive CRM system, others
on distributed authority and information maintenance; all will have many different business
collaborations to manage on an ongoing basis, alongside new enquiries. In the context of a
healthy portfolio of business collaboration, it is vital that enquiry management systems are
reliable and provide information for management purposes. Those universities that do not
regularly review the effectiveness of their enquiry management systems may wish to undertake
an audit to ensure efficient first-level responsiveness; an ineffective relationship management
system carries significant reputational risks.

3.6 Responsiveness of universities to business needs
Despite the significant volume of evidence of successful business–university collaboration, a
belief that our universities are ‘unresponsive’ remains in some quarters. This disconnect requires

There are many reasons why collaborations do not progress beyond the stage of initial
discussions; indeed Imperial College has promoted specific research in the field40. In summary,
there are a number of generic reasons; some may believe that they are largely a consequence of
the culture of universities and the business models that they operate; others may view many of
them as not uncommon in supply chain management:

1.The needs of the business do not align with the mission and strategy of the university.
2.Time scale and capacity mismatch; a university has already committed its resources and
does not have the available capacity to meet the timescale that the business needs.
3.Capability mismatch; a university does not have the skill set or the facilities to meet the
needs of the business.
4.The cycle of bureaucracy: where external funding is required, the bidding cycle does not
meet the timescale the business needs.
5.Financial constraints: a university is unable to provide the service required for the price
the company is willing to pay. This is particularly apparent in the context of full economic
costing in research collaboration where business input to the research merits valuation.
6.Sustainability: the investment required by the university to provide the service does not
have an acceptable payback period.
7.Mismatch in expectations and objectives: expectations of outcomes from collaboration are
not mutually recognised.
8.Failure to agree on the future of the intellectual property that may be generated. Although
much progress has been made in this area since the publication of the Lambert Intellectual
Property agreements 4142, it is still reported as a significant issue in some negotiations.
9.Contrasting views on the management of indemnities and liabilities between prospective
partners; viewed as being an increasing problem
These are all legitimate reasons for non-realisation of potential collaborations. Informed
businesses recognise that the objectives of universities in collaboration are different from those
of the company; successful collaboration requires a duality of interest. In the context of research
collaboration the CBI have published a good practice guide for collaboration for that purpose.43

As several respondents have noted, responsiveness can be achieved by saying ‘No, because…’
quickly, followed by a referral to another university if appropriate. A non-response or
prevarication has an impact not only upon the reputation of the university concerned but upon
the university sector as a whole, compounding the ‘folklore’ of the ‘unresponsive university’.

In order to make their services more flexible and responsive, many universities have established
arms-length subsidiary companies that provide services within a commercial envelope often,
but not invariably, using the resources of the university. This form of outsourcing provides
an organisation that can mediate between the business client’s objectives and those of the
university. As universities apply more commercial business models to their operations, I would
foresee a growth in this activity, with a high level of responsiveness, rapid redirection to another
university where necessary, and potentially a lower rate of the use of ‘No, because…’ in the

3.7 Reflections
The landscape of collaboration is growing in breadth and depth in a dynamic manner. However
there are many areas in the collaborative landscape that need to be improved if our economy is to
gain optimal advantage from our university sector in the context of global competition. Addressing
these areas through individual targeted actions, without reference to other related parts of the
landscape, carries significant risks; this is an integrated ecosystem. In order to make sound policy,
proposals intended to improve performance in one domain of the landscape have to be evaluated in
the context of the landscape as a whole. To achieve that, knowledge of the entire landscape has to
be established; we need to develop an authoritative source of knowledge in that regard.

Universities operate in various domains of the landscape; an individual university’s excellence in one
domain does not mean it achieves excellence in other domains. Excellence in the university sector
as a whole requires excellence across all domains; and that means each university has to define the
domains in which it operates and achieve excellence in them. For the university sector as a whole
to be the world leader in business–university collaboration there can be no place for second-class
performance anywhere in the landscape.

The supply chain concepts of collaboration in the delivery of skills, research and innovation to
business is increasingly relevant to universities, and the business models of strategic alliances
are emerging as sustainable relationships. In order to optimise the exploitation of this capability
and ensure that the wider benefit of business need transcends the competitive culture of our

Meanwhile the reputation of ‘unresponsiveness’ has to be proactively addressed. The
celebration of collaborative success is too often diluted by accusations or examples of failure.
Universities cannot deliver all the services that business needs in a manner that business may
wish; that is the nature of supply chains. The solution to this disconnect, where it exists, is
through clear and open communication between the principals at executive level and mutual
respect of the needs and constraints of the other party. To achieve that, transparency of the
responsibility for business–university collaboration at executive level is a prior necessity.

36 http://www.cihe.co.uk
37 http://www.universitieswm.co.uk
38 http://www.unis4ne.ac.uk
39 http://www.n8research.org.uk
40 http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/innovationstudies/researchthemes/featuredresearchuniversityindustrylinks
41 http://www.ipo.gov.uk/whyuse/research/lambert/lambert-mrc/lambert-mrc-outline.htm
42 http://www.ipo.gov.uk/whyuse/research/lambert/lambert-mc/lambert-mc-outline.htm
43 ‘Business–University Collaboration for research and innovation: a guide for members’ July 2010


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