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FSB calls for better engagement between businesses and universities

A new report has suggested that universities and small businesses must engage at a deeper level, in order to increase positive results for both themselves and their local economies.

The report, Enterprising Allies, was put together by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), an organisation that has always argued the importance of offering entrepreneurial support at all education levels, even amongst younger people.

Enterprising Allies has highlighted a range of different areas that would be suitable for collaboration between businesses and universities. These include research and development, procurement and fostering spin-outs, as well as number of others.

The FSB claim opportunities like this are currently not being taken advantage of, and that both sides seem unaware of the potential benefits that they could reap by working together.

Small businesses especially seem less willing to engage with universities and other higher education institutes, and as a result are missing out on opportunities to improve their prospects.

Ted Salmon, the north-east regional chairman for the FSB, said: “Both small businesses and universities can have a big impact on their local community.”

“In their local communities, universities procure goods and services, are hubs for innovation and R&D, and are magnets for attracting global talent.”

“In turn, small firms play a crucial role in growing the economy, creating jobs and investing in the local community.”

Mr Salmon added that the new report made it clear case for investing both time and resources in what would be a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Places where small businesses would normally go for information such as LEPs or Growth Hubs, could become touchpoints, informing businesses about the benefits of, and opportunities for, engagement,” he added.

The report also highlighted the fact that some universities do already engage with local businesses, with the aim of ensuring graduate recruitment, helping students to get work placements and to encourage mentoring from experienced business people.

There are currently a lot of opportunities for this to improve, however.  If the two were prepared to explore the idea in more depth, universities could end up playing a deeper role in enterprise development, both in terms of delivering business support and in helping to finance new ventures.

Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, gave the report a positive reception.

“Our world-class universities are the engines of our knowledge economy,” said Johnson.

“Recent research shows small firms collaborating with them are up to 38% more likely to develop and introduce new innovations to market, supporting growth and jobs.

“That’s why our new Higher Education White Paper sets out plans to make it easier for new and specialist universities to be established, meeting the demand for high quality education and research in new regions and industries.”

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