Featured image above: global collaboration. Credit Eric Fischer, Flickr
Robin, having been in this space for several years, can you tell us what is different about university-industry collaboration now, compared with 5 or 10 years ago? Have you noticed any trends emerging that we might see driving partnerships in the future?
We’ve been in the space for around four years, and in this short period of time we’ve seen a shift towards greater openness between universities and industry. Local governments, especially in countries where the knowledge-economy is becoming more important as manufacturing starts to wind down, have in part aided this change. Education throughout the industry community through shared membership bodies has also been key to improving relationships.
There’s a highly cited statistic from the UK government commissioned Dowling Review, that only 2% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) would think to consult their local university if they came upon a technological challenge. This is something that needs to change. It’s crucial that governments continue to engage in improving university-industry collaboration, bringing down financial barriers which hinder interactions for smaller companies. Grants for joint projects help do this, and private grant-writing companies within the space also play a role for companies wanting to access money but unsure how to go about it.
In the UK the Impact Agenda, which formed part of the government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) for 2014, was party to much scepticism. Universities were required to submit case studies regarding the Impact of their research on industry, governmental policy and direct public impact. The level of funding for universities was affected by the impact of these case studies which were each given a score. It meant quite a culture shift took place in UK universities, especially for academics whose funding is now directly linked to external engagement (at least partially).
IP and ownership concerns are considered by many in Australia as one of the most difficult barriers to university-industry collaboration. How can organisations do better at addressing IP?
It’s good timing for this question, as recently our Head of Growth, Owen Nicholson, was part of the group developing the UK government’s Lambert Toolkit. It was launched last week and comprises a set of contracts for use by university and industry undergoing partnership discussions. The Lambert Toolkit contracts are not set in stone, but provide a great starting place and will certainly speed up that initial discussion when it comes to IP rights. I could see these types of blueprints being used globally. Owen’s insights on the Lambert Toolkit can be found here.
The valuation of early-stage research is, to my mind, an incredibly difficult process. In some sense, this does give a potential industry partner a better stake in negotiations, but they take on larger amounts of risk in doing so. With all things contractual, it’s about negotiation and making sure both parties are comfortable with the arrangement.
Can you share with us any insights into other major global collaboration barriers?
We’re currently working on removing some other barriers, one of which is how companies access worldwide university expertise easily. Currently all I can say is ‘watch this space’, but lest to say we’re looking to further our vision of helping unlock university knowledge.
In your opinion, is there scope for better university-industry partnerships between Australia and the UK?
In our experience there should be no barriers to global collaboration and partnership, however some universities in certain locations have evolved research specialisms in line with their economy, providing cutting-edge developments within particular areas (e.g. renewable energy technology in coastal areas, or agricultural developments in areas surrounded by farmland).
Australia has a great diversity of research, developed by world-leading scientists, and our excitement at working with universities in the country is causative of our audience. Our industry users are forever keen for us to widen our breadth of technology and research available in new territories they’ve previously had little access to. For many in Europe and the U.S., especially SMEs, Australia represents such a territory.
To hear more from Dr Robin Knight about the blueprints to a global collaboration boom, click here.
Dr Robin Knight is Co-founder and Director of UK-based university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART.