Driving innovation in the UK through collaboration and the Industrial Strategy

Yossie Olaleye from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics reports on a recent conference at the Birkbeck Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR) on the UK’s Industrial Strategy.

Innovation and technological advancement lie at the heart of industrialisation. In November 2017, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published the UK government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper, which presents a ‘modern’ long-term plan to boost productivity across the country through innovation, infrastructure development, and collaboration. The Industrial Strategy focuses on the 5 foundations of productivity – ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment, and places – and the government hopes to encourage collaboration with industry, academia, and civil society to create an economy that works for everyone.

Various questions emerged from the debate around the white paper, including how the government will support science and innovation research, and how to drive growth and local inclusion across the country. These questions formed the basis of the all-day workshop on Innovation and the UK’s Industrial Strategy hosted by Birkbeck’s Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR) on 23 March 2018. The event brought together a group of policymakers, including Paul Drabwell, Deputy Director of Science Research & Innovation and Dr Rosa Fernandez, Economic Adviser on Local Business Growth at BEIS, industry experts such as Professor Birgitte Andersen, CEO of Big Innovation Centre, and renowned UK academics who travelled from Kent, Oxford and Sheffield to share their latest research and comparative perspectives on the Industrial Strategy.

The objective of the workshop was to explore the trends that led to the formulation of the Industrial Strategy, and the possible outcomes of implementing the Grand Challenges outlined in the white paper, focusing on innovation, collaboration, and local partnerships. While the workshop dealt with several topics, including the impact of Brexit on achieving the strategy’s outcomes, presented by Birkbeck’s Professor Klaus Nielsen, two key themes stood out: local, regional and national engagement to deliver on economic opportunities, and driving innovation through digital skills development.

Paul Drabwell opened the workshop by emphasising the government’s commitment to increase R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. He said that the UK “has world-leading science research, excellent universities, and innovative companies,” and it is these strengths that will drive the implementation of the strategy. Increased R&D funding will enable UK universities to continue to excel in international league tables, collaborate more with industry partners, and encourage innovation across the country, a theme which runs throughout the Industrial Strategy. Despite the UK’s strengths, Paul Drabwell noted that there are issues around local engagement in the country, which means that there is a crucial need to drive productivity and maintain a high level of employment. This is a challenge the government hopes to resolve through the £1.7 billion Transforming Cities Fund to improve intra-city transport links and promote local growth within city regions. Dr Rosa Fernandez expanded on this point with a presentation on the role of place in the Industrial Strategy, highlighting that the UK government intends to build on local strengths to tackle the issue of poor distribution of economic activity across the country.

A key question at the workshop was the role of research and the UK’s academic institutions in delivering the possible outcomes of the Industrial Strategy. We heard from Dr Keith Smith at Imperial College London who discussed the need for multinational collaboration to deal with innovation challenges across different industries, and Birkbeck’s Professor Helen Lawton Smith who presented research on the importance of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) in addressing the challenge of regional inequality in the country. Professor Jeremy Howells from the University of Kent and Professor Tim Vorley from the University of Sheffield focused their presentations on the potential for business schools to convene and work with other social science schools to create solutions for the challenges of productivity and job creation discussed in the white paper.

The takeaway from this workshop was that collaboration – from government, industry, universities, and local communities – is essential if we are to achieve the ambitious objectives of the Industrial Strategy, as well as greater investment in research and innovation to support skills development.

One notable example of such collaboration is the Institute of Coding (IoC), which was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May at the World Economic Forum 2018. Birkbeck is a partner in a consortium of over 60 universities, businesses such as IBM and Microsoft, and professional bodies, to tackle the digital skills gap in the UK through the IoC. By bringing together such diverse perspectives, the CIMR workshop stimulated debate and provided useful suggestions for how academics can work effectively with business leaders and the government to drive innovation in the UK through research collaboration and meaningful partnerships.

Many thanks to all who participated and attended the workshop.

Organisers: Professor Helen Lawton Smith, Professor Klaus Nielsen, Professor Jeremy Howells, and Dr Rupert Waters.

Further speakers:

  • Professor Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, State University of New York
  • Professor Åsa Lindholm Dahlstrand, Lund University
  • Dr Alexander Grous, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Dr Carl Hunter, CEO & Managing Director, Coltraco Ultrasonics Limited
  • Professor Ewart Keep, SKOPE, Oxford University Skills
  • Professor Slavo Radosevic, University College London
  • Professor Roy Sandbach, Northumbria University

Further information:

 

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LLM students through to semi-finals of prestigious Moot competition

Two Birkbeck LLM students are set to compete in the semi-finals of one of the most prestigious and popular mooting competitions in the UK, led by Mooting Co-Ordinator Jonathan Thorpe from the School of Law.

Lewis Aldous (pictured, right) and Daniel Cullen (left), both post-graduates on the LLM Qualifying Law degree programme, are through to the semi-finals of the Oxford University Press (OUP) and Inns of Court College of Advocacy National Mooting Competition.

Moot competitions are an ancient method of training lawyers in the art of advocacy, an essential skill for those wishing to practise law. Moots involve two teams, competing in a fictitious appeal case, but in front of a real judge. Teams are scored under several headings – on their ability to interpret and use the law, their skill in presenting legal arguments, and how they deal with questions from the judge during the moot.

Birkbeck Law School runs its own moot training programme each academic year. from which students are selected to compete externally, against other universities, in the major UK moots.

Over the past few years, Birkbeck Law School has had considerable success in the national moots, but LLM students Lewis and Daniel have done exceptionally well this year, beating three highly reputable law schools in legal problems ranging over criminal law, contract law and contempt of court, to reach the semi-finals of OUP.

Further congratulations are due to Lewis, who was recently awarded a full scholarship by Inner Temple Inn of Court to study to be a barrister.

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Reflecting on a career in criminal policy research 

Professor Mike Hough has retired from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research after serving for more than 20 years as its Director. His ICPR colleague Gill Hunter writes about Mike’s retirement presentation and shares some of the insights amassed during his career. 

Mike Hough bows out with his presentation Does justice policy listen to criminological research? Experiences of speaking truth to power

On 8 March, 2018, the ICPR, Law School, Birkbeck hosted a retirement event for Professor Mike Hough. Mike was Director of ICPR for 23 years (ICPR has been at Birkbeck since 2010), and before joining academia in 1994, he was a senior researcher in the Home Office for 20 years. His presentation – Making Justice Policy Listen to Criminological Research: Experiences of Speaking Truth to Power – drew from a long and distinguished career in criminal policy research to offer his reflections on the vagaries of achieving research impact but also the politics and ethics of policy research. Mike has held over 100 research contracts and has some 300 publications. He sought to identify – and to share with us – the ‘magic ingredients of impact’ by reference to examples of his own work which have attained policy traction and others that, in his words, ‘sank with little trace’.

As a policy researcher, Mike has seen impact as being not only about academic citation – although he is a researcher of international renown and has made a significant contribution to the field of Criminology – but how, and in what ways, his research has been able to positively influence justice policy and practice. While having research impact beyond academia is now ‘measured’ in the Research Excellence Framework, there are numerous hurdles to achieving this.

Mike’s move from Home Office to academia in the mid-1990s was instigated by his desire to carry on doing policy research but with greater freedom, and the late ’90s was a boom time for policy research. Mike was a beneficiary of some of this plentiful Government funding and contributed to programmes of research firmly in the tradition of liberal reform – more of which below. However, as he highlighted, there are ethical issues when one is in a position to secure large amounts of public or charitable trust money that may affect public policy, and a government can choose to accept or ignore research that doesn’t tally with its political vision. He noted the fine balance between making compromises when reporting critical research findings to funders and of being compromised, and described this often laborious negotiation process as a largely neglected craft.

Through reference to his research undertaken with colleagues, he described some impact successes and challenges:

  • The British Crime Survey (now Crime Survey of England and Wales) has had enduring impact as a reliable indicator of crime trends. This had scale, was novel and had access to policy power through its location in the Home Office.
  • Research into problem drug-use was committed to the idea that encouraging dependent drug users into treatment was better policy than punishing them. This was done at a time of increasing Government investment in drug treatment, but relationships frayed with Government’s move to mandatory treatment and its over-claiming of success, which reduced scope for independent research.
  • Research on public attitudes to sentencing and penal populism provided good evidence that there wasn’t a monolithic punitive public, and that sentencing practice wasn’t wildly out of kilter with people’s sentencing preferences. Research on the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) played a part in the abolition of this unjust sentence. This programme of work had traction with senior judiciary and was assisted by the Prison Reform Trust who secured access to politicians and senior policy advisors.
  • Research into public trust in the police. One well-funded study charted falling public trust in the Metropolitan Police, attributed to perverse effects of numerical targets. This work lacked a good conceptual framework, policy allies or interest from senior police managers but it did lay the foundation for later work on procedural justice theory which has had a significant impact on policing ideas in the UK.

Through these examples Mike emphasised his lessons for achieving impact as: having something noteworthy to say that is based on research done on a significant scale, within a coherent conceptual or theoretical framework; timing; working with NGOs who understand the policy process; cultivating non-academic allies, including within Government; knowing how to amplify your voice through the media and contributing to the parliamentary process.

Last, but by no means least, is building strong collaborative working relationships with academic and policy colleagues. Some of these longstanding colleagues, including Gloria Laycock (Professor of Crime Science, UCL), Ben Bradford (Professor of Global City Policing, UCL), Juliet Lyon (previous director of the Prison Reform Trust and Visiting Professor, Birkbeck) and Julian Roberts (Professor of Criminology, Oxford University) paid tribute to Mike and encouraged his continuing contribution to criminal policy research. Mike is currently a Visiting Professor in the School of Law.

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Birbeck’s day out with the London Venture Crawl

Jenna Davies leads the extracurricular Enterprise activities at Birkbeck and recently took a group of students on the London Venture Crawl, an event aimed at connecting them with businesses and experts.

Wednesday 14 March saw a group of entrepreneurial students from Birkbeck join an event that was unlike any other; six double-decker buses, nine London Universities and over 200 students made up the London Venture Crawl and celebrated everything the city offers to budding entrepreneurs.

Birkbeck teamed up with University of the Arts and the University of East London and transported students to a range of enterprising spaces around the capital to inspire them to pursue their start-up ventures, meet successful entrepreneurs along the way and ultimately check out a snapshot of what London offers on the start-up scene.

The day started bright and early with students ready for the first stop of the day at Campus London, a Google space in Shoreditch. Hearing from Creative Entrepreneurs, an innovative community of creative individuals, the group woke up and boarded the double decker bus that was to be their mode of transport for the day.

On board, they were greeted by serial social entrepreneur Benjamin Western, Co-Founder of Gaggle and indiGO Volunteers to pump them up for the rest of the journey.

The second stop was at Amazon Fashion, catering nicely for the group as they got an insight into the impressive warehouse where all of Amazon’s fashion items go for checking, photographing and packing. A panel discussion with the top operators gave a glimpse into life at the leading online retailer.

Third stop of the day took the group to Grant Thornton, after hearing from their Head of Growth Finance, Sarah Abrahams. Lunch was served and the students met Crate Brewery Founder Tom Seaton who shared his story starting up Hackney’s well-known venue.

The venture continued on to Hello Fresh, the extremely impressive and relatively new organisation that saw its revenues grow from €2.3m in 2012 to €304m in 2015 – here the students met some of the key players at their London hub and toured the quirky space.

The penultimate stop for the group was Innovation Warehouse, a co-working space and community for digital high-growth start-ups. The students were able to hear from the founder Ami Shpiro along with some of the entrepreneurs within the community.

The final stop brought all six buses together where students from across the nine universities to could network over a pizza and beverage while hearing from the inspiring Lawrence Kemball-Cook, founder and CEO of Pavegen, as well as take part in the cross-bus pitching competition. Birkbeck stormed through to the final, with Business Innovation student Bobette Kenge rounding off the day on a high and ending what was an extremely eventful, inspiring event for everyone involved.

Birkbeck Business & French student Jennifer said: “The Plexal building was fantastic, the talk at Grant Thornton with the Founder of Crate Brewery was great and gave an insight into the different types of investments, investors and how it all works, and Amazon Fashion was heaven to me! I would love to come to a similar event again and meet more people.”

This was an incredible opportunity for our students to network with a huge range of fellow London students, plus receive invaluable advice from the speakers throughout the day. The energetic atmosphere lasted right to the end of the day and was fantastic to see.

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