The industrial strategy: making the case for higher education

The Industrial Strategy underlines the importance of knowledge, skills, research and technology to the UK’s productivity challenge and its deep-seated regional imbalances. Universities are clearly critical for the UK to address these challenges, as highlighted here by David Marlow. The industrial strategy shows us just how many different funding channels are open to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with an appetite for public investment to drive the productivity and economic growth agendas forward.

To unlock any of the resources that the Industrial Strategy, HEIs really need to get up to speed with the essential requirements of HM Treasury Green Book and the Five Case model. To ensure a robust approach and favourable outcomes it is important to adhere to these business case principles.

Critical things to get right 
The five cases outlined above each need to be individually robust and collectively coherent to make a compelling argument for your proposed investment. The Five Case model is central to the Green Book and has a lot of requirements set out in hundreds of pages of guidance, but here are some critical issues to get right:

  1. Ensure strategic alignment and support: the industrial strategy has a big focus on place, underlined by the push for local industrial strategies. Your project is going to have a much greater chance of success if it can demonstrate clearly how it contributes to local, as well as national challenges and opportunities. Of course, it will help immensely if this is backed up by hard cash commitments from local partners and shows how local businesses and communities might benefit.
  2. Get to know your partners: schemes will be stronger if they have broad support and show collaboration across disciplines and institutions. Working with partners may reveal common objectives and needs, which can be better solved collaboratively. This may mean working with other universities as well as major industrial partners and specialist research facilities. This is not a zero-sum game; the aim is to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts and to minimise duplication. So, have these conversations early and work at them.
  3. Think about additionality: you will need to explain how your scheme adds to what is already there and what sort of net overall impact it will have on the economy. This will require some hard thinking about what facilities are already in place and how businesses in particular are currently navigating around the challenges you are endeavouring to solve.
  4. Align impacts to investor priorities:  go beyond activity indicators and really set out the benefits your project will have on the economy. Remember, the industrial strategy is ultimately about productivity growth so you need to show, with evidence, how your project will deliver this. Demonstrating job creation is fine but you need to be clear how your project will impact on the supply side and potentially be ready to assess land value uplift.
  5. Set SMART objectives: be clear on what you are trying to achieve and use firm quantitative goals to explain it. Your objectives should provide clear measurable targets for change in the underlying conditions you are trying to address. These objectives can be research focussed so long as they show a clear link to downstream productivity improvements and associated economic benefits in the wider world.
  6. Consider alternatives: use the options assessment to really test your ideas and demonstrate why your preferred way forward represents the best route to achieve your objectives. Be open to alternative approaches which may improve the design and impact of your initiative and try to go beyond the simple goldilocks approach to options i.e. one too big, one too small, and one just right!

Above all, if there is one single lesson to take away from this, it is that tough decisions will probably need to be made along the way, which may put strains on relationships. Be clear among yourselves what the core essentials are and work together to carve out a deliverable proposition that demonstrates benefits at a reasonable cost.

Taking the next steps
Developing business cases can be made easier with outside help. There are a series of potentially complex tasks at various points in the process that Regeneris regularly undertakes for clients. This includes supporting a number of HEI-led partnerships to develop business cases for initiatives with a research, innovation, skills or business support focus. In the course of developing these business cases we have built up a firm appreciation of how to:

  • translate research benefits into wider economic impacts
  • explain complex research agendas to funders and policy makers in accessible terms
  • align local priorities (eg from Science & Innovation Audits and Strategic Economic Plans) with national strategic priorities of the government
  • and, to work with academic partnerships to broker agreements, understand the five case requirements and set shared priorities.

We have helped our clients by providing a blend of critical friend advice, briefing support, analytical inputs, facilitated decision-making and drafting business cases. A clear, well evidenced business case using HM Treasury Green Book principles will set your scheme apart and enhance your chances of success.

The Industrial Strategy is a real opportunity for HEIs to develop deeper local roots built on meaningful collaborative partnerships.  The route can be complex to navigate yet with the right support in place universities can play a much bigger role addressing economic objectives for the UK.


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