Nancy Rothwell / Innovation at the heart of our future strategy

Research and discovery are at the core of what we do at the University, driven by curiosity and the pursuit of new knowledge. However, we also aim to ensure that we realise the impact and benefit of those discoveries for both their economic and social value. Innovation is a cross-cutting theme of our new strategic plan that is currently being finalised after extensive consultation with stakeholders.

Partnership is core to our approach to business engagement. A series of formal strategic partnerships with some of the world’s leading firms underpins many of our activities, nowadays often linked to the national and regional industrial strategies. While each agreement reflects the partners’ own needs and practices, we share a core set of principles, including frameworks for price and intellectual property which smooths the way for projects. More importantly, they involve sharing information and expertise which opens new opportunities for both sides. Often this allows us to extend the scope and scale of collaborations across research, careers, executive education, alumni activities and more. This approach has taken us to a leading position in terms of the value of our collaborative research with business. Evidence of this is seen in our leading national position for the value of our collaborative research and in rankings of the most innovative universities.

With smaller firms there are different challenges. Their needs for knowledge are just as intense but time and resource for collaboration are scarcer. The focus is often on putting the right person into the company to work on an innovation challenge. Leverage from public funding from agencies such as Innovate UK is key. We have the largest number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in England, which do just that. We hugely value this scheme and have some notable successful outcomes, such as record-breaking graphene sports footwear. At an earlier stage, student and graduate internships carry similar benefits. The Alliance Manchester Business School has opened the new Masood Enterprise Centre and has successfully launched the Scale-up Forum to address the needs of the fastest growing firms.

To meet global societal challenges, we have sought to develop new instruments and means to collaborate. Leading these are our research institutes including the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, and in the area of advanced materials, the Henry Royce Institute, the National Graphene Institute and the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre. They have the aim and capability to break through the constraints of linear models of innovation, accelerating the time to application of cutting-edge research. The model is being extended to health with the interdisciplinary Christabel Pankhurst Institute currently under construction at the heart of the campus. This Institute will open the way to the application of advanced materials and digital technology to drive health benefits, business growth, productivity gains and employment.

All of these areas feature strongly in Greater Manchester’s Local Industrial Strategy, emphasising another key dimension of partnership, with the city authorities and Local Enterprise Partnership. Building the regional innovation ecosystem is key to driving benefit from our research and ensuring the best employment opportunities for the majority of our students who prefer to pursue their careers in our dynamic region. But our collaborations with industry are increasingly global, including many new partnerships with the Far East.

One of our most exciting opportunities is Innovation District Manchester. The £1.5 billion development will be the most effective innovation district in Europe. Developed with an investment partner on our North Campus, it will bring jobs, research partnerships, student internships and graduate employment to the city.

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