Britannia rules the knowledge-transfer waves

July 15, 2010

A study comparing knowledge transfer on both sides of the Atlantic has debunked the myth that UK universities languish behind their American counterparts when it comes to making money from academic research.

The analysis carried out on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England concludes that British universities have a more advanced attitude to knowledge exchange than US institutions and make the dissemination of research a key part of all academic roles.

The report, The Higher Education Knowledge Exchange System in the United States, says that universities in the UK "have gone much further in introducing knowledge exchange as a part of the promotions and assessment criteria" than those in the US.

However, the US still excels when it comes to community engagement, and American universities play a greater role in local and regional economic development.

Overall, the study, compiled by Alan Hughes, director of the University of Cambridge's Centre for Business Research, and the consultancy PACEC, finds that there are more similarities than differences between the two countries.

Both academies face the same problems, including a lack of consensus on the most efficient knowledge-exchange models, duplication of services and difficulties in attracting good staff to lead their commercialisation efforts.

The report says the difficulty of attracting and retaining good staff is a "vicious circle, with poorer-quality staff leading to a reduced ability to raise funding".

Wrangling over intellectual property rights is another common problem, the report states, while universities in both countries lack the scale of research needed to justify "costly investments" in knowledge exchange.

David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at Hefce, said that in the UK, "one of our biggest myths is that we are brilliant at research but poor at commercialising that research".

He added: "We are just as good at research commercialisation as US higher education, and indeed our academics may have gone further ... in embracing the importance of engagement with the economy and society in their core practices."

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