Driving regional impact: universities of S&T in innovation ecosystems

Our Vice-President Tim Bedford explores how universities of Science & Technology (S&T) are shaping regional innovation ecosystems, driving industrial collaboration, and leading talent development.
25th June 2024
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New technologies are changing our societies and economies more rapidly than ever before, with increasing global competition for technological leadership. At European level we see this reflected in the growing emphasis on industrial competitiveness in discussions around the priorities for the next Commission, and also in the recognition that Europe’s research and innovation capability in these new technologies is a vital component of its strategic autonomy. That places universities of Science and Technology in a key position as institutions that bring together cutting-edge research expertise in new technologies, talented early-stage researchers, and deep collaboration with industrial partners and research and technology organisations.

That emerging emphasis is welcome at European level, but the policy implementation will need to address the way that we, as universities, work with communities in our cities and regions together with regional authorities, and the way that we contribute to the regeneration and renewal of our regional economic and social infrastructure. In 2018 Task Force Innovation looked at the ways that universities of Science and Technology actively contribute to the development of regional innovation ecosystems and produced a key report which called for a new approach to the Third Mission, that we called Mission 3.1, in which the University provides active leadership not just for its own development but in developing the regional ecosystem. This report gave examples, based on the work our Members do, of a range of activities from establishing regional industrial partnerships to creating collaborative research and innovation infrastructures, and of talent development from collaborative industrial PhDs to deep tech startups and entrepreneurship centres. All of these initiatives deliver our core goals as universities but in a way that produces vital impacts for the region.

Recently Elsevier has worked with our friends at TU Eindhoven to develop a framework which addresses the ways in which TU/e interacts with and contributes to its regional innovation ecosystem. Elsevier describes this mode of operation as a Fourth Generation University. I was delighted to represent CESAER at the recent Times Higher Education European Summit in Bremen for a special session organised by Elsevier to discuss the report and the concept, and I sat in the panel together with the President of TU Eindhoven, Robert-Jan Smits, the President of the EIC, Michiel Scheffer, and the Managing Director of the German TU9 Nicole Saverschek. We recognised that the objectives described as Mission 3.1, are now being measured in the Fourth Generation framework across a variety of parameters

  • Gateway for talent: Developing talent for industry and industrial collaboration
  • Industrial Collaboration: Strategic partnerships with industry
  • Alignment with key technologies and clusters: Research focus on key enabling technologies that underpin the needs of clusters
  • Spinouts and alumni funded companies: Supporting the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and the commercialisation of new tech
  • Shaping the innovation ecosystem: Providing a significant leadership role in driving the regional innovation ecosystem

There was a lively debate about the importance of our kind of university for regional ecosystems, while recognising that some goals are achieved in different ways across different regional ecosystems. We have now made an agreement with Elsevier to develop the Fourth Generation framework further through a pilot project.

The next CESAER Annual Meetings (CAM) in Glasgow will explore many aspects of regional innovation ecosystems and provide the backdrop of the work taking place in Scotland, giving us all a chance to consider further how our leading research and innovation capabilities can provide even greater impact in our regions. The leadership track will take place at the new National Manufacturing Institute of Scotland looking at how we accelerate and deepen industry-academic collaborations, while the High-level conference will focus on the topic of ‘Innovation Districts - from Deeptech and Entrepreneurship to Inclusive Innovation’. Strathclyde’s Principal, Sir Jim McDonald, and I look forward to welcoming all leaders and representatives from all CESAER Member universities to the Technology and Innovation Centre at Strathclyde in October to discuss these issues further, as well as to enjoy our warm Scottish hospitality.

Tim Bedford

Associate Principal for Research and Innovation at the University of Strathclyde and Professor of Decision and Risk Analysis

CESAER Vice-President

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