Over the years, I’ve seen many reviews of academic-industry collaboration come and go, with varying degrees of success. I hope that the new Dowling Review will finally deliver real and lasting improvements to the current system – but it will do so only if politicians are willing to back its laudable recommendations with hard action.
In launching her review last week, Dame Ann Dowling pointed to the need to simplify the current fragmented system of schemes intended to promote collaboration – and she was right to do so.
While preparing evidence for the Dowling Review, I counted 17 different funding schemes attempting to address university-business collaboration. Not only is the current system confusing to navigate, but schemes also change before we know whether or not they are effective. What we really need are secure, stable, long-term government funding schemes to support research and development in the UK.
I work at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and we have found one existing support measure – the Higher Education Innovation Fund – to be particularly effective for driving collaboration between academia and industry. HEIF funding has been a critical factor in our success in recent years at partnering with industry and developing a succession of cancer treatments. HEIF funding has allowed us to build up a team of people who are experienced at brokering interactions between business and academia, and it is flexible enough that it can be used by institutions in different ways to support them in working with business and the community in the best way for them.
So I was delighted to see that the Dowling Review supported the calls from us and others for the government to make a long-term commitment to HEIF funding. Academic-industry partnerships bring huge benefits to society – not only in economic terms but also in human ones, by transforming scientific discoveries into treatments for diseases. It is vital that the government act on the findings of the Dowling Review and put in place a coherent, stable system to promote innovation – including the financial support needed to make it happen.
Director of enterprise
Institute of Cancer Research, London