Byline: Graham Henry
VOUCHERS to encourage innovative partnerships between small businesses and higher education have been urged as "vital" to help small business develop research links.
Innovation vouchers have already been in widespread use in English regions, where vouchers of typically up to pounds 5,000 can be granted to a business to invest in university research.
A Universities UK survey has revealed that 88% of English higher education institutions said that the scheme had fostered new relationships with SMEs and 86% said it had stimulated future collaborations.
Just under three quarters of institutions (72%) thought that it was helpful that the scheme was run on a regional level. The voucher entitles businesses to purchase specialist consultancy up to a certain value. Regional development agencies across Europe have adopted the scheme but it has yet to be implemented by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). Advocates of the scheme have said that it provides links between higher education facilities and business with less bureaucracy.
David Rosser, chief executive of CBI Wales, said: "We think they are a great idea and will be calling for them to be introduced in our response to the WAG economic renewal consultation. "It puts individual companies in touch with individual institutions. It is about giving both sides a reason to work together and hopefully kick off a long-standing relationship."
CBI Wales previously affirmed its support for the vouchers in a report from the Enterprise and Learning Committee last year, saying that the scheme was a good way of tackling the "challenge" of getting funding from SMEs.
But when questioned on whether Welsh SMEs should be free to redeem their vouchers in institutions outside of Wales, Mr Rosser said that it was a "good question" and an "important issue for debate."
He said: "There are certainly tensions on this issue that need addressed - but if a Welsh company were to spend the money on a Welsh university you get a double benefit - especially as Welsh institutions are not getting as much cash as their English counterparts.
"There are clear benefits to be derived if you spend it locally."
Russell Lawson, of the …