Arc Universities

As the world works to rebuild its economies in the wake of COVID-19, Research England has launched an initiative to boost value realised from university research and turn early-stage, research-based innovations into new products and services. Two of the Arc Universities, University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, have secured the £1.5 million grant, alongside eight other institutions across the world.

The grants, from the Research England Development (RED) Fund, support two programmes: TenU and a new Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI) 

A leading practitioner group, TenU will share expertise and experience to develop, improve, and disseminate best practice in research commercialisation. UCI will undertake research to create the evidence base for informing research commercialisation policy for government and universities. The two groups will work closely in areas of mutual interest.

TenU brings together the heads of the world’s leading technology transfer offices (TTOs) at ten top universities—Cambridge (UK), Columbia (USA), Edinburgh (UK), Imperial College London (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Manchester (UK), MIT (USA), Oxford (UK), Stanford (USA), and University College London (UK)—to share and develop improved approaches to commercialising university research for societal and economic benefit.

Research from these universities has led to many world changing innovations, such as rapid whole genome sequencing (Cambridge), the page rank algorithm technology that became the basis for Google (Stanford), the world’s first artificial vaccine against viral hepatitis B (Edinburgh), fibre optics (Imperial), one of the most widely used medications for HIV treatment (Leuven), and programmed T cell therapies (University College London).

As the world works to rebuild its economies in the wake of COVID-19, university TTOs will play a critical role in turning early-stage, research-based innovations into new products and services across many different sectors. In the UK, the Industrial Strategy has identified universities as key drivers of innovation. In the US similar policy is embodied in the Return on Investment Initiative, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US Department of Commerce. 

The second grant will provide £1.2 million to the University of Cambridge to establish a Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation. The new unit will help to drive a step change in universities’ contributions to delivering increased R&D and innovation in the UK through these uncertain and turbulent times.

UCI will be developed in partnership with the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (CSTI) and the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB). It will create much needed capacity in the UK to support the needs of UK government departments, funding agencies, and universities for better data, evidence, and expert insights, to develop more effective approaches for university commercialisation and innovation.  

The needs for better evidence are growing as we move from the immediate COVID-19 pandemic crisis into the longer term economic recovery period, and as the government looks to maximise the value realised from its increasing investments in the research base. Universities need to find new ways of working with businesses, investors and others to open up opportunities for wealth creation, address emerging innovation challenges, and improve productivity. To unlock this potential, governments will have to adapt policies and funding programmes to become key enabling partners in this process.

Working closely with key stakeholders, UCI will be initially focusing on three areas:

  • First, developing an evidence base on how the COVID-19 induced economic crisis is affecting universities’ abilities to contribute to innovation, and identify possible actions to ensure they are able to play a strategic and active role in the national economic recovery.  
  • Second, improving our understanding of the research-to-innovation commercialisation journeys and examine how policies and university practices could be strengthened to deliver increased value to the UK.  
  • Third, advancing the data and metrics available to better capture the performance of universities in delivering economic and social impacts through their commercialisation activities to facilitate more effective benchmarking and evaluation of performance.