My week - 20 January 2014 - Professor John Fisher, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Professor John Fisher discusses working with industry partners.

Professor John Fisher

Discussions about refreshing our research and innovation strategy began at the latest Leadership Forum. Part of those discussions, led by David Hogg, focused on growing our annual research income by £50m to levels attained by universities like Manchester and Edinburgh. Larger, longer grants, centre and programme grants, major fellowships, collaborative awards with other universities, and working in partnership with industry and external organisations, are all ways that we can increase the number of £2m+ research awards and substantially grow our research income. Increasingly, external funders are looking for us to include industry and external partner collaborations as well as academic collaborations in new major awards.

Following the Leadership Forum, I went to the launch of a new centre led by Leeds – the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Medical Devices (MeDe) – which focuses on the two key challenges of stratified and personalised medical devices. The centre is collaborative with four other universities and has £5.7m funding from the EPSRC, with a further £1.5m industry support from 13 partners, extending over five years. The launch attracted over 230 people to listen to experts talking about the challenges facing industry in developing and adopting new strategic approaches.

In this sector, high-value innovative manufacturing starts with defining clinical need and new product concepts, and results in improved treatments and outcomes for patients. It is as much about what product is manufactured, as how it is manufactured. We see similar trends in other industry sectors, such as automotive, aerospace and consumer goods. The ‘reshoring’ of manufacturing and related industry activities to UK is not just about more manufacturing plants and manufacturing processes, it is also about building on our strengths in research, innovation, creativity, design, technology development, technology evaluation, simulation, data management and analysis.

Training the right types of graduates and postgraduates is critically important and, on the same day as the MeDe launch, the EPSRC also announced £3.2m funding for the University’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, supporting Innovation in Medical and Biological Engineering – a centre strongly supported by 12 industry partners. Extending these collaborative activities to include internships and student placements is part of our plans and we are fortunate to have initial funding from alumni and campaign donors to support external student placements.

Some 25 years ago, one of my first experiences of working with industry partners in Leeds involved collaborating with Professor Ian Ward in Physics, then head of the Polymer Interdisciplinary Research Centre. In the 1990s, industry was interested in working with leading researchers such as Professor Ward who were supported with major funding. This remains the case today. Leading researchers and leading academic research are the cornerstones of these industry partnerships and collaborations. Today, global industry partners are looking to link nationally-funded centres of excellence into international consortia, so they access the very best knowledge from around the world.

Working with industry partners will become increasingly important to us as we grow our research and innovation activities, and will continue to be a significant element of our success in winning major external awards. This was further reinforced to me last week when I attended a round table in London with major grant holders from EPSRC and members of EPSRC Executive and Council, to discuss the UK industry sector strategies and ‘Eight Great Technologies’. Future funding policies in UK and in Europe (Horizon 2020) will be aligned to industry strategies, future growth and emerging technologies, and strategic and effective engagement with industry partners is essential for us to be successful in addressing these opportunities.


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