Universities and industry - has anything really changed in eleven years?

Whilst clearing out some old files from the computer this afternoon, I came across this article from the Times Higher Education Supplement, which reported on the first major project which I managed - a £500,000 European Commission sponsored study into links between universities and industry.

It was a very proud moment for me personally and professionally, as only eight per cent of well over a thousand research proposals from all across Europe were actually funded.

Apart from making me feel very old and wondering where the last eleven years had gone, I still feel that entrepreneurship and links with industry are still not as valued by universities as research and teaching.

Until they are, our academic sector will continue to underperform in terms of its potential contribution to the economic vitality of this country.

'Enterprise must be valued and fostered'
THES, 13 November 1998


University enterprise is being stifled by more teaching duties, growing administrative tasks and the pursuit of high research ratings, a report will say. The European Commission-funded report, due to be published before Christmas, says that there is a mismatch between academic and industrial culture. A clear example is that pure academic research must be entered early for inclusion in research assessment exercises. By contrast industry often wants to sit on research findings for years to optimise their commercial potential.

The report, Universities, Technology Transfer and Spin-off Activities, also says that although most academics in the United Kingdom are entrepreneurial, often taking on contract research and consultancy work, universities offer little support for furthering such links with industry.

Study coordinator Dylan Jones-Evans, professor of entrepreneurship and small business management at Glamorgan University's Welsh Enterprise Institute, believes university and business culture must change. He says that enterprise should be seen as important as teaching and research. He welcomed last week's government announcement of £25 million to set up enterprise institutes in eight universities, but he said it did not go far enough.

Professor Jones-Evans said: "It is important that every university has the opportunity to develop an enterprise strategy. But increased teaching and administrative pressures mean that many staff simply do not have the time to properly establish and undertake collaborative projects with industry. In addition, the continued emphasis on publications as the traditional outputs for academic work has meant that collaborative industrial research and development is not valued, except as a source of income."

University-industry links were studied in five European countries and Wales and Northern Ireland, but not England and Scotland. It looked at the work of more than 4,500 academics in faculties of science, engineering and medicine. There are 30 case studies of academic entrepreneurs.

The report found that about 70 per cent of academic respondents had some type of industry contact in the past five years, mainly contract research and consulting. Professor Jones-Evans said these were just as much a part of entrepreneurial culture as the creation of "campus companies" but that the links with industry ought to be improved.

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