3.2.4 Enhancing business engagement

Enhancing engagement with business in fundamental research and training is the key element of our contribution to the government's 2.4% R&D investment target. We will build on our proven track record in partnership with businesses, small and large, to secure further co-investment in outcome-driven research and much-earlier-stage fundamental, discovery research. Over half of our portfolio involves collaboration with business and other non-academic partners, providing around £1.2 billion of leverage on our portfolio of £4.6 billion. This close partnership and co-delivery ensures our research outcomes generate enhanced economic and social benefit.

We engage with businesses as long-term partners and act as both co-investor and domain specialist. The creation of Prosperity Partnerships in 2016- 17, is a key example. These are a unique concept across UKRI in which businesses work with their long-standing strategic partner universities to co-develop and deliver user-inspired research. Businesses also co-invest an equal amount of cash, as a minimum, to that invested by EPSRC. To date, we have funded 23 partnerships, representing a total investment of £156 million of which £90 million was leveraged from industry and university partners. These partnerships span a range of sectors with strong overlap with the UK's Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges and are starting to attract further inward R&D investment to the UK from business. Building on our track record, we will develop a suite of integrated approaches that enable the UK to reach the 2.4% target and lead to greater private investment, growth in business capability and the unlocking of research benefits for growth.

Long-term ambitions

Our long-term aspiration is to ensure that:

  • business and user engagement with the research base has been energised through dynamic large-scale challenge-led collaborations with diverse partners, working to address pre-competitive topics defined by industry to deliver economic/social impact. Success will be reflected in the size and scale of the collaborations we support
  • the Prosperity Partnerships portfolio has been expanded to achieve: increased volume, increased sector coverage, more leverage and a greater link to the supply chain. Success will be reflected in the diversity of organisations involved and the amount of leverage achieved
  • an increased ability for small and medium sized companies to engage in bottom-up business-led research collaborations through new, agile approaches. Success will be reflected in an increased number of SMEs engaging directly with our portfolio.

Near-term actions

In 2019-20 we will:

  • increase the number of strategic business partnerships from 11 to 24 within 12 months of the launch of this SDP, with a specific focus on the creative industries and service sectors. Intrinsic to this approach will be engagement with IUK and other UKRI partners, especially AHRC
  • strengthen joint working with our principal business partners Arup, AstraZeneca, BAE Systems, BT, GSK, Tata Steel, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Procter & Gamble, Siemens, Rolls-Royce and Shell through strategic bilateral meetings, site visits and shared objectives
  • pilot new partnership models between universities, businesses and national labs, with active technical/project management delivering tangible industrial outcomes in a fixed timeframe. Invite businesses to lead in identifying topics for major industrial challenges within these partnerships. Shortlist two challenges (one in a mature sector of the economy and another in an emerging sector) for £20 million pilots based on national strategic need and the excellence of the underpinning basic engineering and physical sciences research required.
  • The pilots will be run in 2020-21, these will require a minimum of matched financial leverage from the business partner. Success will be reflected in the ability of these partnerships to rethink the ecosystem in support of the 2.4% target, by aligning the research base and delivering specific, time-bound industrial outcomes from the research
  • work with IUK, university and business partners to pilot new opportunities for SMEs to access our research, people and technologies. The pilots will focus on building the capacity of research-led SMEs, with the first set being run with a total investment of £20 million in 2020-21. As an input to this, a series of town meetings will draw on the expertise of partners and stakeholders to scope specific interventions with most impact, and will be followed by a high-profile launch event. Success will be measured by the extent of diffusion of engineering and physical sciences research expertise within the SMEs and the adoption of innovations that arise
  • expand the volume and coverage of our Prosperity Partnerships and explore growing this activity across UKRI. A call is already under way with guaranteed matched financial contributions from business, and there is an ambition to fund up to eight further partnerships in 2019. If funds are available, our aspiration is to transform the landscape in both scale and coverage of Prosperity Partnerships, going from around £20 million to £80 million per year, running multiple annual calls and targeting all sectors of the economy.

Case study

Partnership drives growth in the automotive sector

JLR, the UK's biggest automotive manufacturer, is also its largest manufacturing investor in R&D, investing £12 billion over the last five years. The company is a member of our Business Engagement Forum, which promotes regular engagement between us and our key business stakeholders. In 2011, JLR was involved in just one EPSRC-supported project but today it provides support or direct funding for over 100 postgraduate researchers and around 50 EPSRC-supported research projects across 19 UK universities; projects include developing autonomous sensors, optimal use of data for autonomous vehicles and intelligent infrastructure, and systems designed to adapt to their users' personal characteristics. This expansion has  helped supply JLR with the tools and people to support growth. Anthony Harper, former Director of Research at JLR, said: "EPSRC plays a vital role in enabling and supporting some of the world's most advanced academic research. We stand on the brink of the mobility revolution and see EPSRC as key in fostering the science and innovation infrastructure to help bring about that change."