Partnerships between universities and high-growth firms can help support struggling city economies

Several universities located in cities with big economic challenges are pursuing new ways to work together with high-growth firms in their regions and beyond, in order to create more jobs and innovation in their area.

Press release published on 30 April 2014

But a new report from leading think tank Centre for Cities demonstrates that to maintain success, they will need bespoke support from Government and local authorities.

The report Delivering Change: Supporting links between cities, universities and high-growth firms supported by Santander, highlights a number of places where universities and businesses are working together to create more jobs in the local area – identifying several examples such as:

  • Teesside’s business-facing approach to the digital sector which has helped to create hundreds of new companies and jobs in the area;
  •  The N8 network of Northern universities investing in a supercomputer for universities and firms to use; and,
  • The ‘Interface’ Network linking businesses and universities across Scotland together to match niche business challenges with expertise from the broad range of universities

Many of these innovative partnerships are taking place in some of the country’s weaker economies. For example, Centre for Cities has previously shown that Middlesbrough is in the bottom five cities for employment and in the bottom 20 for knowledge-intensive jobs and graduate retention. And in the six largest cities where N8 universities are based* only York has an employment rate higher than the national average.
These trends must be reversed if the UK economy outside London and the South East is to grow sustainably in the years ahead. Universities in these cities, working together with their business bases and encouraging firms to grow and evolve, offers an important avenue to boost growth, and help improve the performance of those places over the long term.
But in many of these cities, the future of these initiatives is far from secure, and a blanket ‘national approach’ is unlikely to work. To ensure university-firm partnerships can continue to support much needed growth, national policy must reflect the reality that different partnerships will require different interventions to progress.
In Teesside, for example, that means providing long term funding support, but for the N8 cities, it means supporting the expansion of partnerships across a wider range of firms, increasing the breadth of the network, and therefore generating new opportunities for growth.
Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities said: “Many of our universities have been innovators in creating effective collaborations with businesses within their cities and beyond. Supporting these existing networks to keep doing what they are doing will be important to encourage better, balanced, growth across the country. They can help to create high quality, sustainable jobs, in some of the places that face some of the biggest economic challenges.”
Simon Bray, Director, Santander Universities Global Division said: “It is clear from this report that Cities have a vital role to play in championing collaboration between their universities and their business community. Cities need to really back these initiatives and act as convenors to facilitate the networking that is vital to success. These relationships can bring enormous value to city economies, creating jobs and boosting growth”


For more information contact Rita Beden, Interim External Affairs Manager on / 020 7803 4303.

*The N8 Universities are based in Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York. Figures are from Cities Outlook ( which does not include Durham or Lancaster.
This research was supported by Santander. Santander UK is a leading financial services provider in the UK and offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. At 31 December 2013, Santander UK serves more than 14 million active customers with c. 20,000 employees, c. 1,000 branches and 50 regional Corporate Business Centres. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.