Witty Review: Enhancing the Third Mission

Second Post on Witty Review and Partnerships for Progress

2. Enhancing the Third Mission

Sir Andrew Witty, like Professor Sir Tim Wilson, sees universities as ‘anchor institutions’ in their local economies. But in order for them to fulfil their potential in enhancing economic growth, they need an enhanced Third Mission. Witty is careful to emphasise a broad interpretation of ‘third mission’: ‘an enlarged sense of the term, going beyond knowledge transfer activity and assuming a responsibility for facilitating economic growth, and recognising the interrelated and mutually reinforcing character of excellence in research, education and economic engagement.’

This chimes with the broad and inclusive approach we took in defining Jisc ‘Business and Community Engagement’ in 2007, to include the different dimensions of external engagement, covering both the research and teaching-derived engagement. This broad view of university engagement, proposed as a core value by the Association of Commonwealth Universities in 2001, is now a defining feature of several universities in the UK, and abroad  and of recent international attempts to define the Third Mission, as for example in the E3M project.



Annual Government monitoring of universities’ Third Mission plans is one way that Witty believes the Third Mission can be enhanced year on year: ‘Universities should report their Third Mission activity, for inclusion in an annual report to the Government which also identifies impediments to this activity, with recommendations as to where the Government could act to remove these. Each year the Government should publish its response to these reports and recommendations’.

Witty recommends increasing HEIF to £250M/year and not excluding institutions that do not qualify for more than one year within the five-year period. But it is on embedding explicit incentives for SME engagement that he focuses the most, recommending that:

  • Institutions’ HEIF strategies show how all local SMEs that could benefit from working with an HEI are enabled to do so
  • The method of determining institutions’ allocations should be reviewed to sharpen the incentive to engage with innovative SMEs.

Since SMEs are vital to future UK economic growth, ‘universities should be incentivised pro-actively to seek out innovative and potentially innovative SMEs and to support them with technology, expertise, talent and know-how’.

Jisc supported and funded the Open Innovation and Access to Resources partnerships from 2009-13. In so doing our objectives were:

  • Demonstrably enhanced access for SMEs, entrepreneurs, communities and other external parties to information and knowledge, innovation and collaboration opportunities which can help inform, improve, develop or sustain their business or venture; and
  • Enhanced institutional capability across the sector to drive innovation by leading the provision of online information and knowledge services on behalf of a wider collaborative partnership utilising existing local networks.

We hope that these Partnerships for Progress, which informed the NCUB’s pre-evaluation work for a national collaborative platform, can serve as a small demonstration of what can be achieved when universities develope the coherent capability to lead local partnerships and engage SMEs.

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