The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report on Technology Innovation Centres (TICs) yesterday. It's left me feeling that we are at risk of a major missed opportunity. There seems to be a lack of focus that has crept into the TIC debtate, since Hermann Hauser published his original report on the topic nearly a year ago.
Hauser's vision was unequivocally to build the UK's position in new technology markets. The aim of TICs, he proposed, was "to exploit the most promising new technologies, where there is genuine UK potential to gain competitive advantage. This will help deliver the new industries, with transformational economic impact, of the future." Hauser also suggested four conditions for investment in a TIC:
the potential global markets are predicted to be worth bilions of pounds per annum;
the UK has truly world-leading research and potential business capability and absorptive capacity to make use of increased investment;
the UK has the ability to capture a significant share of high value activity; and
TICs can enable the UK to attract and anchor the knowledge intensive activities of globally mobile companies.
These criteria have almost faded from view in the recent consultation by the House of Commons Committee. Its report suggest that "The primary criterion must be the quality of the science and the economic benefit to the UK". This sounds more like the aspiration of a university. And how did Hauser's ambition for "transformational economic impact" become diluted into "economic benefit"? Perhaps no wonder that so few businesses submitted responses to the consultation. Just a bare handful out of 85 in total.
Still, one proposal that hasn't changed and deserves a cheer is that the new TICs should be named after a mathematician, although Hauser's preference for Maxwell has been replaced by one for Turing. I hope that this is more because of his laying the foundations for innovation, through his pioneering work in computing, rather than, as the House of Commons Committee suggests, because the nation owes him "a debt of obligation for the way in which he was treated".
Let's also hope that in their implementation, TICs maintain the high ambition of the original vision.