Universities should be at the core of the Government’s industrial strategy

Business Insights

The Government must put universities at the core of its Industrial Strategy to deliver the innovation, productivity and skills the country needs to compete, according to the UK’s leading business group.


The CBI will urge the UK Government to seek bespoke ‘Associated Country’ status to EU research programmes that support investment and innovation, ahead of the next Brexit position paper to be published on science and innovation.

At a speech at the Universities UK annual conference, Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, outlined the CBI’s priorities to ensure that UK universities maintain their place at the top of global league tables:

On Industrial Strategy and the value of UK universities, Carolyn said:

“Now more than ever we need to really get behind our universities and deliver on their potential as world-leading centres of excellence.

They lie at the heart of the future of the UK and should be at the core of our Industrial Strategy.

Digital transformation means research and innovation is now more important than ever before.

So we need to say yes to innovation by saying yes to our research departments.

And realise – as we build our industrial strategy – that the UK’s universities must be a shining beacon.”

EU Research Schemes

On maintaining access to EU research schemes, she will say:

“Today EU schemes makes up a sixth of our total research funding.

“Replacing that would be a real challenge.

“But this isn’t just about money – it is about international leadership and giving the UK a voice in setting standards.”

Lasting Benefits

“Horizon 2020 is a great example of this.

“The biggest research programme in the world, it turns 44 countries into a collaborative engine that brings lasting benefits to the UK economy.

“We need to be clear: We are not likely to be able to replace quickly the benefits of participating in these Framework Programmes.

“That means we must seek bespoke ‘associated country’ status in all aspects of Framework Programme 9.

“And this should be an aspect of the permanent settlement between the UK and the EU – not just a transitional arrangement."

“Domestic research spending is not yet high enough.

“We are significantly behind China and Japan on levels of spending and we don’t yet do well enough on commercialisation.

“That’s a huge shared challenge for universities and businesses. That’s why the CBI wants to see spending on R&D raised to 3% of GDP, as a shared goal for the public and private sector."

International Talent

On the need to be open to international talent, Carolyn said:

“We attract the best staff and students to our universities. And this international talent is a real benefit for Britain. They support not only our institutions but also the towns and cities where those institutions are based.

“International students alone are worth £25 billion to our economy. The links they build here give us the edge when it comes to international collaboration and ensure we have the best research skills in the world.

“If we deter these people from coming here there are plenty of opportunities they can pursue elsewhere. In Canada, in Australia and in the US.

“But we want these highly talented people here in the UK, supporting jobs and growth here.

“First and foremost, let’s give people some clarity by saying, irrespective of the deal, the UK Government will let those staff already here from EU countries stay, and that those students applying to start courses up to and through the transition period will be able to come and complete their course. We need to show staff and students from the EU that they are welcome in our country.”

On the future of university tuition funding, Carolyn will say:

“This is an issue that goes to the heart of the purpose of our universities - opening doors, raising skill levels and boosting social mobility.

“And, in the past century, we’ve come a long way. In 1900, just 1% of young people were enrolled at university. Today, each school year in England sees over 40% of its students enrol at a university aged 18 or 19.

“Alongside this, we’ve seen record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make it, and open up a world of opportunities for their future."

“This is the system that tuition fees have funded - ensuring universities have sustainable, independent funds; making sure students pay nothing until they are in work – an effective graduate tax; and raising participation rates amongst the most disadvantaged groups. All delivered in an affordable way for the taxpayer.

“Our universities rely on the stable, independent funding provided by fees. I think it is important we are clear – with the fee system in place, universities have delivered greater access for disadvantaged groups than ever before.”

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