The importance of Universities working with businesses (Western Mail Article)

Julie Morgan AM talks to Bangor University KESS 2 project during a recent visit

Julie Morgan AM talks to KESS 2 participants Phil Bowler (ConvaTec R&D), Dr Hongyun Tai and Kenny Chan during a recent visit to Bangor University.

Although Wales currently faces a substantial amount of political and economic uncertainty, we know for a fact that the future prosperity of Wales very much relies upon on how well we develop and invest in our future generations.

Building and growing a competitive edge is essential, and providing resources to combine research, knowledge exchange and higher level skills development is going to be critical to the chances of us delivering a positive future.

Highly successful collaborations enable us to build on the talent and knowhow which currently exists in Welsh businesses, universities and other organisations, and helps them to develop innovative and inspiring ideas which help to ‘put Wales on the map’.

It is therefore vital that we invest in aligning our universities research with the needs of small and medium businesses as well as public services, whilst at the same time driving high level skills to meet the changing needs of the economy.

Universities have an important role to play in driving prosperity across Wales by providing opportunities for postgraduate researchers and academics to enhance their research skills in key growth sectors, and also by supporting the commercialisation of that research among businesses. It is necessary to continue to increase the number of individuals with higher level skills in research and innovation working within knowledge based businesses in Wales.

Businesses often provide opportunities for postgraduate researchers who previously may have had little, or even no experience of working in a commercial environment, and both the business and researcher benefit substantially from that partnership.

Dedicated ‘Knowledge Exchange’ teams within universities in Wales can help businesses, academics, and postgraduate researchers work together. Developing and delivering projects collaboratively encourages a long term approach, so that work can continue from concept through to product launch.

Many businesses refer to a ‘triple win’ – for the student, the company and the university.  Universities are cited as providing the analysis to tell them in theoretical terms what they thought they knew already. One business owner said: “We didn’t know as much as we thought we did, until we had a PhD student”. Universities therefore, can give businesses access to people and resources that they wouldn’t normally have access to.

One successful scheme that assists businesses is the Bangor University led and pan-Wales ‘Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships 2’ project (KESS 2). This is a £36m EU scheme which helps to increase the number of people with higher level skills engaged with enterprises with a view to promoting and increasing Research and Innovation activity within those businesses, including micro companies.

KESS 2 delivers a range of collaborative Research Masters and Doctoral level opportunities within Universities and companies in the West Wales and the Valleys area.

The scheme keeps the needs of the participating businesses at its heart. The programme offers a low cost means by which a company can engage in a research project, together with the opportunity to develop a long term relationship with a University. KESS 2 also provides a platform to access the latest academic developments and a chance to develop in-house R&D activities, and importantly involves all universities in Wales.

Following the highly successful KESS project between 2009 and 2014, KESS 2 is now in the second round of funding and will provide 645 scholarships over the course of six years with partners ranging from SMEs to large companies, social enterprises and public bodies. Examples include Tenovus Cancer Care, Natural Resources Wales, Tata Steel, S4C, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Mencap Cymru, Halen Môn, Qioptiq Ltd., P&S Nano Ltd., Biovici Ltd. and Cultech Ltd.

New and smaller companies in particular stand to benefit greatly from the scheme, as very often due to their size, carrying research is often beyond their means. However, as can be seen from the diverse list of companies above, all types of organisations can benefit regardless of their size as all have constant need to develop.

To succeed and prosper, Wales must continue to utilise its substantial expertise wherever it may be. Working together across sectors and traditional boundaries enables us to react quickly to the demands of customers, businesses, service users and the government. We should be proud of the world leading expertise we have in Wales, and we should continue to make better use of it for the benefit of all our people.

For detailed case studies and KESS 2 scholarship opportunities:

Dr Penny Dowdney
KESS 2 Wales Manager
Bangor University

The above article originally featured in the Western Mail on Thursday October 4, 2018 (Page 3, Education Pages)