HuaweiCollaboration key to overcoming research innovation red tape

Collaboration key to overcoming research innovation red tape

With fears over how bureaucracy will impact UK research innovation, experts call for a coordinated approach, clear communication and common-sense regulation

Universities should work with industry and one another to efficiently and effectively navigate the red tape and regulation required for innovative research.

A Times Higher Education round table, held in partnership with Huawei, asked experts from industry and academia if international trade regulation is inhibiting innovation.

Chair Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor at THE, said the UK government had declared its ambition for the UK to regain its status as a science superpower. However, recent reporting from THE highlighted concerns published by the Higher Education Policy Institute that the National Security and Investment Act could entangle UK universities’ research and innovation activities in more red tape.

Jason Feehily, director of Knowledge Exchange Asia at the University of Nottingham, said while the Act was “technically” another layer of bureaucracy to navigate, it would ultimately streamline processes.

“We’re taking the view, particularly around the trusted research agenda, that ultimately it will improve and speed up collaboration and isn’t part of that wider additional research bureaucracy,” he said.

Michael Hill-King, collaboration director at Huawei UK, said new funding bodies would naturally bring their own administrative processes and checks and balances. “The trick is to increase the straightforwardness, attractiveness and openness at the same time as introducing the new opportunities and new bodies and guidelines. We actually use every new introduction in a way to bring things closer together, have less divergence in the way particular aspects need to be handled,” he said.

Clearly communicating new regulation requirements to the research community was crucial, particularly given the competition for talent from nations like the US, according to Peter Smith, pro vice-chancellor at the University of Southampton. “I think the UK needs to be very aware that getting this right is going to be important because otherwise I suspect young researchers will just find the US is overwhelmingly attractive,” he said.

Some panellists were concerned that bureaucratic processes were holding universities back in some areas. Clare Brindley, associate provost at the University of Derby, warned a lack of a talent pipeline could potentially impact on developing international collaborations. “If we haven't got that talent pipeline coming in, with a fertile doctoral programme, that will impact on partnerships going forward,” she said.

Mark Spearing, vice-president for research and enterprise at the University of Southampton, said he didn’t see regulation or bureaucracy as “the major inhibitor of large-scale international partnerships”. He cited two key University of Southampton partnerships with an international consortium and a university in Singapore.

“The critical thing, what makes or breaks those, is continuity and commitment to the partners and the availability of funding,” he said.

Maggie McGowan, director of research and innovation at the University of Hull, called for universities to be “much more coordinated” in their research delivery and innovation. “Universities are set up in a competitive sense for undergraduate recruitment, but it doesn’t have to be the way for research,” she said.

Dominik Zaum, pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Reading, said the draft of the Tickell Review – a major review of research bureaucracy – was “pretty sensible” but regulation demands would continue to grow.

“I think the review starts to provide some interesting ideas for how that can be done more efficiently. Ideas around clearing houses and others, so we don’t all replicate the structures to do this,” he said.

Malcolm Skingle, director of academic liaison at GSK, said there should be a “common sense” approach to regulation, to balance security concerns and opportunities for international collaboration. “You need to be doing things for the right reasons,” he said.

The panel:

  • Clare Brindley, associate provost, University of Derby
  • Jason Feehily, director of Knowledge Exchange Asia, University of Nottingham
  • Dawn Hibbert, head of research support, University of Northampton
  • Michael Hill-King, collaboration director, Huawei UK
  • Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Maggie McGowan, director of research and innovation, University of Hull
  • Malcolm Skingle, director of academic liaison, GSK
  • Peter Smith, pro vice-chancellor, University of Southampton
  • Mark Spearing, vice-president for research and enterprise, University of Southampton

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