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UK university-industry links at risk from Brexit
Large United Kingdom research-intensive universities are most at risk of having their collaborative links with industry damaged by Brexit, according to a new report from three experts from Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The report, UK Universities Interacting with Industry: Patterns of research collaboration and inter-sectoral mobility of academic researchers, was presented at the Centre for Global Higher Education's annual conference on 1 March in London by Professor Robert Tijssen and Dr Alfredo Yegros.

Together with a third author, Wout Lamers, also from Leiden University, they have been measuring the relationship between UK universities and industry – with a particular focus on academic collaboration with companies based in other European Union member states.

They found that 24% of academic-industry connections among the 47 most research-active British universities were with companies in the EU.

Tijssen told the London conference that in terms of sheer numbers of co-publications with industry and the percentage of mobile researchers crossing back and forth from academia and industry, eight large research-intensive universities were most at risk from a severing, or weakening, of ties between the UK and continental Europe.

The eight were Imperial College London, King's College London, University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, University of Oxford and the University of Manchester.

Speaking to University World News, Tijssen said: “There are several reasons why research links with European companies would be at risk from Brexit.

“In the case of European Commission-funded research, UK universities are likely to have less access to European Union funding and it will be harder for them to be research project coordinators. They might have to renew or renegotiate contractual arrangements, notably on intellectual property rights issues, that are now covered by standardised European R&D contracts that apply equally to all member states.”

He expected less problems with bilateral links between a UK university and a single EU-based company, but warned: “There could be issues regarding staff exchange schemes, dual appointments of industry researchers and temporary stays in the UK after Brexit.”

The authors say that universities less focused on UK industry links are likely to be more vulnerable to Brexit-related developments.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has the highest share of foreign co-authored publications with industry, with 88% of its output involving at least one company outside the UK. Of these, 40% involved a EU partner.

Across the 47 UK universities studied for the report, an average of 40% of the co-publications with foreign companies included at least one firm located in an EU member state.

Although relatively small in number overall, the London School of Economics and Political Science had the highest concentration of foreign university-industry co-authored publications with continental Europe, with over half of its international publications with industry involving an EU partner.

Yegros said the findings for the initial report were based on extracting data from the Thomson Reuter Web of Science's core collection of the 12,000 most important scientific journals. The 47 UK universities selected appear in the 2016 edition of the Leiden ranking – the annual global university ranking based exclusively on bibliometric indicators compiled by the Dutch Centre for Science and Technology Studies and Leiden University.

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist who runs De la Cour Communications. He regularly blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his website.

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