Reaching Out…

By Aaron Small 21/12/2009

I was recently sent a link to an article in The Australian, on a survey completed by the UK Innovation Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London, on “Knowledge Exchange between Academics and the Private, Public and Third Sectors. The survey, which elicited 22,000 responses, made for interesting reading.

It turns out (in the UK anyway) that academics are engaged in a wide range of interactions with a wide range of partners in each of those sectors – 40 per cent of respondents worked with the private sector, 53 per cent co-operated with the public sector and 44 per cent with a third sector such as charities. I guess the big question to be asked here is, how much did this happen, and is engaging once in the last 3 years sufficient for an academic to give a ‘yes’ answer? In the case of this survey, I suspect it is, but for my liking once every three years could hardly be called engaging.

Whether that may or may not be the case, one thing was obvious from the survey – academics do seem to have motivation for Knowledge Exchange, albeit for different drivers – improve teaching, greater insights, test practicality etc., rather than making money. However, there are a few constraints to them doing so, the largest being lack of time and university bureaucracy. Academics can’t do everything (as I’ve said before), and as the authors point out, after teaching, administration, outreach etc:

“There may be little capacity left within the university system for a greater level of interaction between academics and external organisations. Simply too much pressure may be placed on universities, or the academics within them, to engage with others and achieve economic impact. Furthermore, such pressure could undermine some of the core strengths of many universities in particular if it leads to less basic research.”

This, coupled with the fact that the initiation of external activities was done by Technology Transfer Offices only 24% of the time, suggests the need for special/improved expertise in this area – just as Sir Peter Gluckman has mentioned in several speeches this year, and as Mark Dodgson points out in ‘The Australian’:

“There are implications for technology transfer and commercialisation offices. These should better reflect the diversity of their home institutions’ missions and be much broader in the range of interactions they support. They have to ensure their commercial transactional approaches do not deter academics from initiating conversations with external parties.”

I wonder what the results of such a survey would be in New Zealand? Perhaps the academics amongst you could think about who you’ve approached externally in the last 3 years to ensure your research has impact?