GSK chief urges government to invest £1bn in university innovation projects

The chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline has called on the government to plough £1 billion into innovation and technology projects that will be spearheaded by leading universities, in a bid to create new companies and jobs.

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The chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline has called on the government to plough £1 billion into innovation and technology projects that will be spearheaded by leading universities, in a bid to create new companies and jobs.

Sir Andrew Witty was commissioned by the government to examine how universities can better support economic growth and drive exports.

His report argues that the UK is a world leader in technology and has some of the best universities in the world, but in order to punch above its weight internationally, it needs to simplify complex funding streams and charge universities with turning ideas into successful businesses.

“This country leads the world in many cutting-edge technologies and inventions. But too often we fail to turn these great ideas into successful companies that create jobs,” said Witty.

“Our universities are key to changing this. They are already a major competitive advantage for the country and I believe we could do more to maximise this.”

He added: “This report sets out how we can make better use of the ideas they create and working with other institutions how they can convert those into jobs here which support an export-led economy.”

Witty’s report proposes that ‘Arrow Projects’ – cutting edge technologies or inventions – are created with universities at the fore. These Arrow Projects should then be supported by local and national resources, such as the Technology Strategy Board and UK Trade & Industry, which help the universities to create the maximum economic benefit and to support export-led growth.

Witty suggests that Arrow Projects should focus on areas such as quantum computing, which offers revolutionary advances in computer capability. He said that the government should back the projects with £1 billion of funding, either with new money or through the redirection of money from existing schemes.

The funding should be made available as a ‘one stop shop’, rather than via multiple and complex applications that currently exist, he urged.

He also said that universities should better support SMES, which have the potential to break into global markets and supply chains.

“I would like to thank Sir Andrew for his review and appreciate his perspective as a global business leader who bases a large proportion of his work in the UK,” said Universities and Science minister David Willetts.

“We know that universities are engines of innovation and have an important role to play in driving our industrial strategy.

“We are already making strides to help commercialise the work done by universities under the Eight Great Technologies, which will help this country accelerate ahead in the global race. We will now consider the recommendations and respond more fully in time.”