What could research councils and TSB do to encourage business-university collaboration?
It was felt that HEIs should build their relations with areas where they have something special and distinct. We need to look past mainstream QR and Research Councils for funding through business links.
The representative from EPSRC believed that the review may have underplayed what Research Councils already do. A significant amount of work is given to capturing outcomes: tools to help connect businesses and universities. It was noted that 40% of their portfolio already has collaborative business links. Her advice to the group was to ensure that bidders speak with beneficiaries at the start of the project.
It was also noted that strengths for University Alliance institutions rest in KTP and EU opportunities. The group also discussed how both funding requirements and success rates determine behaviour; what is rewarded will get more effort than what is not (some discussion ensued re AHRC rewarding collaborative behaviour with subsequent behaviour changes; and how ESRC and others could do the same).
The EPSRC representative found Wilson report helpful for seeing the whole landscape given that they work with a smaller section of the HEIs (although primarily research intensives).
What can we learn from other countries?
A discussion took place on German degrees taking longer and including work experience and therefore whether that model might be useful to us when looking at Wilson’s sandwich years proposal. In addition, discussion of the Fraunhofer model and closer business links between businesses and universities; it is clear that such relationship building takes time.
There was some concern expressed over trying to impose other countries’ models on the UK; and the discussion moved to Catapult centres, of which there are many and various models so far, were initially based on the Fraunhofer approach but have since changed. It was agreed that Catapult centres could be used as model for referrals to other organisations as suggested by the Wilson Report, but that reviewing the success or otherwise of such centres would take time. It was agreed that those outside the Catapults needed to get more information about them and their working methods.
It was also recognized that most universities have research and business innovation centres within them and that this needs to be the focus of our attention.
What can we as HEIs do to help business understand our research strengths and those of others?
The group believed that we must avoid reinvention of earlier practice unless the models can be shown to be successful, i.e. portals of information; and recognize the costs of setting up and maintaining services. There was some scepticism expressed about whether any external database of research could ever be practical and secure a level of funding and resources that could ensure it was updated sufficiently often to remain useful.