Call for cash boost to drive knowledge-transfer activity

October 3, 2003

Employer-friendly initiatives fail to win over business sector, The THES reports

The government is not doing enough to facilitate knowledge transfer despite encouraging universities to get more engaged in such activities, administrators will hear this week, writes Caroline Davis.

Kate Hughes, the new chair of the Association for University Research and Industry Links, warned there had to be a permanent and substantial stream of funding to ensure activity could be sustained. But she said there was no easy way of measuring it in the way the government required, Ms Hughes, who is also director of research support services at Warwick University, called for a re-evaluation of what was meant by knowledge transfer.

She said she would prefer to call it "knowledge interaction", and although often driven by universities, it involved all public and private research organisations.

It was not simply a matter of pushing knowledge out. "We can't just focus on commercialisation or exploitation or even knowledge generation," Ms Hughes said. "There is a massive spectrum of activity. It could be regional regeneration or globally significant research, interacting with small businesses or providing training. And it's not just about universities, it's about the public sector and the private sector."

Until now, the government has focused on spin-offs and licensing, providing support for these through the Science Enterprise Challenge fund and the University Challenge fund. But, said Ms Hughes, this overlooked long-term relationships that could not be measured easily and would outlive any government's term of office.

Ms Hughes echoed the interim findings of Richard Lambert's review of university business links, which found much more activity going on than had been recognised. The issue was about recognition, she said, and then investing cash to develop the activity. "It didn't just start happening four years ago."

She said resources were needed to establish the field. This would mean that staff did not have to wait for a new round of funding to find out if they still had a job.

"People are working at this, having a major impact on business proposals," she said. "They are shaping the relationships at the interface. It's a sustainability issue for government."

Members of Auril - at 1,300 strong, the largest knowledge-transfer association in Europe - will meet in Dundee this week to discuss these and other issues.

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