Small businesses in the UK are twice as likely to collaborate with universities as their US counterparts, according to a study to be presented on Tuesday in Edinburgh.

However the research, by Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found the US companies still got more out of their university relationships because they had a longer tradition of turning academic thought into commercial ideas.

The study, which compared 1,600 small and medium-sized companies, found that two-thirds of the British companies used higher education institutions as sources of knowledge, compared with one-third of the US respondents.

And while 23 per cent of the British companies said they were running research collaborations with academic departments, just 14 per cent of those in the US said so.

However, the research also found that 30 per cent of the US companies rated their university relationships as “highly important”, while just 13 per cent of the UK companies did so.

US business heads were more likely to be graduates, spending significantly more on activities such as patent and licence acquisition.

Andy Cosh, from the Centre for Business Research at Cambridge University and one of the three authors of the survey, said US companies benefited from their greater experience of collaborating with universities.

However, he added that UK companies showed an enthusiasm for changing the British culture, which previously kept business and academia separate.

Mr Cosh said many of the UK respondents were “naive” about how to make collaboration work. “A lot of them did it because it seemed to be the right thing, but they hadn't seen why it was a good thing,” he said.

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