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Case studies: Productive economy

Future evolution in insurance markets

ESRC funded researchers from the Aston Business School, together with Insurance Intellectual Capital Initiative (IICI), have undertaken a study of reinsurance underwriting and brokering practices in the London and Bermuda reinsurance markets. They analysed the strengths and weaknesses of face-to-face and electronic trading approaches and their implications for the evolution of the industry.

The research has allowed organisations within the industry to understand the training and development implications of the different methods of doing business, helping policymakers see how the markets will develop over time and share best practices in both markets for the benefit of the customers. In giving them the tools to professionalise their trading processes, the study will enhance the firms’ capacity to capitalise on opportunities afforded by current changes in the industry.

The exceptional level of engagement from the IICI commissioning panel and the outstanding access that the researchers had to the participating companies, made this study a beacon of knowledge transfer and knowledge co-production.

More information about this case study is available here

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NERC support for unique water monitor could generate £24.1m for UK economy

Funding from NERC played an important role in the development of a unique water quality monitor. NERC's contribution to the creation of the monitor could be worth £24.1 million to the UK economy, according to a report prepared by consultants DTZ.

The device, called Hydraclam, was developed by Dr Stephen Boult at the University of Manchester, and has been commercialised by Boult's spin-out company Salamander. Hydraclam was created with the help of £480,000 of NERC funding and input from four NERC PhD students. Hydraclam is being used by water companies in the UK. Dr Boult says "NERC funding had its most critical impact by allowing my academic research in hydrology to proceed and from this developed the ideas about extensive monitoring, appropriate instrumentation and markets into which it could be sold."

Monitoring water quality is important; water companies need to meet standards set by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI). Traditional methods cannot always provide the necessary information on risks to water quality. Hydraclam can help companies address this problem. It is attached to water hydrants to monitor real-time water pressure, temperature, turbidity (cloudiness) and conductivity (which indicates how much solid material the water contains).

A full copy of the report is available here

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A bright new future for three new businesses

As STFC’s Innovations Technology Access Centre (I-TAC) reaches its first anniversary three innovative start-up companies, each aiming to make the world a better place by addressing the world’s greatest global challenges, have been awarded free access to the unique cutting-edge research facilities and expertise. PV Glaze, BiSN and Chris Underwood are all winners in the I-TAC Futures Challenge run by STFC’s Futures team, which seeks to exploit scientific research to find solutions to the government’s grand challenges in energy, environment, healthcare and security.

  • BiSN is a newly formed, highly technical service company serving the oil and gas industry. At I-TAC, BiSN will be carrying out a study on enhanced oil recovery, with a view to enabling better access to oil reserves which have previously been abandoned and facilitating the extraction of oil from them, resulting in more efficient use of resources.
  • PV Glaze is developing a renewable energy technology using silicon based cells that can convert solar radiation into electricity.
  • Dr Chris Underwood is working on a novel design for a Vascular Access Graft, a type of artificial blood vessel which is implanted in the arms of people who require lifesaving dialysis.

The I-TAC Futures Challenge was aimed directly at any UK company involved in research and development within the global grand challenge areas. Each winner has received six months free access to their own dedicated, fully equipped laboratory at Daresbury’s Innovations Technology Access Centre (I-TAC), which provides unrivalled access to more that £3 million cutting edge scientific research facilities. In addition to this, the winners will have access to all of the wider benefits associated with moving on to the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, including STFC’s scientific expertise and the business development support of the Daresbury Innovation Centre.

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UK research is key to business productivity and economic growth

A new report from Research Councils UK (RCUK) presents the case for UK research and why it is so vital for our future prosperity. “Research for our Future: UK business success through public investment in research” includes input from leading business and industry and examines why they choose to work in partnership with British researchers. The evidence is overwhelming in support of the view that the quality of the UK base attracts business and industry to conduct R&D in partnership with researchers and that the knowledge and ideas generated by this research are key drivers of business productivity and economic growth.

RCUK Impact Champion, Professor Dave Delpy said: “The UK has long been a nation that leads research innovation and this is the key competitive advantage we must preserve. It is vital that we continue to produce the best in academic research that has an impact on us all and attracts the best business and industry from around the world to the UK.”

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • Continued public investment in research is essential for the success of UK business and industry.
  • The greatest long-term productivity advances come through breakthroughs in basic knowledge.
  • Publicly funded research raises the productivity of R&D in the private sector.
  • Research institutions produce highly trained graduates which are an essential resource for UK companies and foreign companies investing in the UK.
  • The high quality of UK research makes the country attractive for inward investment by international business and industry through collaborations.

A copy of the full report can be found here

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New film to accompany RCUK report “Research for our Future: UK business success through public investment in research”

The report, released on Wednesday 13 October, presents the case for UK research and why it is so vital for our future prosperity. It includes input from leading business and industry and examines why they choose to work in partnership with British researchers. The evidence is overwhelming in support of the view that the quality of the UK base attracts business and industry to conduct R&D in partnership with researchers and that the knowledge and ideas generated by this research are key drivers of business productivity and economic growth.

A film has been produced to accompany the report and includes interviews with Romesh Vaitilingam the report author, Professor Dave Delpy RCUK Impact Champion, Jonathan Haskel Professor of Economics at Imperial College London and Dr Ammon Salter Director of UK Innovation Research Centre. The film is available to view here. A copy of the full report can be found here

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Connecting policy and research to understanding spatial economics

Why do some regions, cities and communities prosper while others do not? Understanding the causes and consequences of the disparities in economic prosperity across parts of the UK in the primary aim of the Spatial Economics Research Centre. Supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) the Centre is developing the evidence base and supporting methods to tackle spatial disparities at regional, city-region, local and neighbourhood levels.

In additional to its own multidisciplinary research programme, the Centre aims to inform and improve policy decision making at national and local levels. It is connecting UK policy makers with international expertise, research and good practice, and provides a focus for academic networking, stakeholder engagement, knowledge exchange and the development of research capacity in spatial economics. Based at the London School of Economics, the Centre brings together academics from the Universities of Glasgow, Newcastle, Oxford, Strathclyde and Swansea.

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MediaCityUK – connecting academia and industry

A major research facility at Salford’s MediaCityUK aims to generate £25 million of investment into research over the next eight years. Funded by the AHRC and EPSRC and led by the University of Salford, the Framework for Innovation and research in MediaCityUK (FIRM) will connect the BBC and the Digital & Creative Industries sector in the Northwest to international academic and industry research specialists and funding mechanisms.

FIRM will develop research capacity in higher education (HE) in a way that is responsive to the needs of industry. It will not only drive high-quality, innovative research, but will also provide economic benefits by delivering technological and sociological insights ready for commercial exploitation, through the development of new products and services and the exploitation of new markets.

The project will deliver 18 major collaborative research projects between industry and HE in the creative, ICT and digital sectors employing 30 researchers across the Northwest working on collaborative research projects and 180 across the UK. In addition, FIRM aims to generate or lever £25 million of research investment from the private sector over the next eight years.

To read more about how Research Councils UK are building partnerships look at Impacts: Achieving investment in UK research through partnership which is available here

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SQUEASE Ltd wins the RCUK 2010 Business Plan Competition

SQUEASE will revolutionise the way people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are helped to deal with anxiety. The team led by Sheraz Arif from Design London, received £25,000 towards accelerating their business to develop a range of clothing products that apply deep pressure to the wearer creating a calming effect. The range of products is initially aimed at teenagers and young people with ASD and is designed to offer discreet relief whilst on the move.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science said: "I am delighted that SQUEASE Ltd has won first prize in the RCUK Business Plan Competition 2010. The UK has a long history of innovative and creative research and development, and this competition is an excellent way of encouraging researchers to expand their work, consider commercial opportunities and ultimately contribute to the UK economy. Initiatives such as this are important in demonstrating the value of UK research to business and industry around the world."

Recent research has shown that public investment in research has a direct impact on GDP and this is crucial to driving UK growth in these economically fragile times. As the number of academics and higher education institutions engaging with business and industry rises further investment is attracted to the UK. From a recent RCUK report Research for our Future: UK business success through public investment, the evidence is overwhelming that it is the quality of UK research that attracts business and industry to conduct R&D in partnership with UK-based researchers.

The RCUK Business Plan Competition has now been running for six years and in that time it has helped researchers work with business and industry to gain the appropriate skills to turn their work into successful business applications.

More information about all the entries to the 2010 RCUK Business Plan Competition can be found here and background about the Competition and previous winners is available here.

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Social science benefits to business

Social science can benefit business in numerous ways: from helping to set a business strategy to enhancing business operations. Since 2007, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has expanded its support for social scientists to engage with business, which has led to impressive results. On a strategic level, high-quality social science has provided insights on new business areas as well as advising on corporate social responsibility. On an operations level, social science has enhanced the project management skills, improved the management practices, and delivered innovative thinking on top management pay.

Besides advising business on best practice, social science can enhance business performance by providing innovative ideas. Preceding the recent financial crisis, researchers from the ESRC Centre for Research in Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) at the University of Manchester collaborated with staff from KPMG People Services who design reward packages for top managers in business. Part of the project involved the secondment of KPMG’s David Shammai to CRESC to study the pay patterns of top executives in the FTSE 250 (mid-sized British companies). Out of this engagement came one big, new idea that challenged established pre-occupations about how senior management pay should be linked to performance. The research showed that pay within the FTSE 250 is best seen as a ‘fee’ that is scaled according to company size (measured in terms of market capitalisation) rather than a return for performance. This reframing of the problem opens up new ways to evaluate management pay and opens up potentially new approaches to its design and control.

Following the research, KPMG presented the findings at an internal training day for its reward practitioners as well as mailing out a summary of the research to 1000 business clients. One client, a large British pension fund was delighted to have their perception of “market cap bias” in pay confirmed by the research.

More information about the Economic and Social Research Council and the impact of social science research can be found here

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Flying high with Rolls Royce

The ADAM (Advanced Materials) project is a major collaboration between Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ and several universities, with coordinated funding from EPSRC and DTI. It has led to new knowledge about the behaviour of high temperature materials with applications in aircraft engine blade coatings and electric powered engines being taken up in Rolls-Royce, the former leading to improvements in performance, and the latter to the demonstration of the feasibility of a long-term future vision.

One of the areas investigated under the ADAM Defence and Aerospace Research Partnership programme was the underpinning science of inertia welding. The fundamental materials science developed by the universities enabled Rolls-Royce to understand its process and how to control it, which led to weight and cost savings of material components.

The underpinning science of inertia welding developed by the project helped Rolls-Royce understand and control the inertia welding process used in the Trent 900 engine that had its maiden flight in an A380 aircraft from Singapore to Sydney in October 2007. Mike Hicks, of Rolls-Royce plc said: “The work done by EPSRC funded students provided valuable insight into the basic science and metallurgy of the process and made a significant contribution to the success of the Trent 900.”

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Picasso - Peace + Freedom - a huge success for the AHRC at Tate Liverpool.

Over three months this summer Tate Liverpool hosted an international exhibition looking at the political works of Picasso, curated by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Fellow and art historian Professor Lynda Morris. Over 14 weeks the exhibition drew 93,912 visitors generating nearly a million pounds in ticket revenues and over 4,000 catalogues were sold.

This exhibition received worldwide media coverage including all the major UK newspapers with features in The Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times and Independent on Sunday amongst many others. TV and radio coverage included BBC Northwest Tonight and ITV's Granada Tonight broadcasting live from the exhibition and a documentary on Sky Arts. Linda Morris, co-curator of the show appeared on Radio Threes Nightwaves and reviews appeared on BBC 2's The Art Show, Radio 4s Front Row and Today programmes.

Participation from regional schools was encouraged through a series of free workshops that offered the opportunity for school children to engage with the exhibition. Six local primary schools took part with children from years 4 – 6 looking at the themes of peace and freedom in the visual arts, followed by a practical workshop making doves.

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