A more formal relationship between industry, public sector research establishments and universities may be necessary if Government attempts to boost interaction between them are to succeed, according to Peter Cook, director of the British Geological Survey.
In a report called Science in a Market Economy, Dr Cook says the Government has placed considerable stress on building these networks, particularly in the wake of the 1993 science white paper. The paper led to the Technology Foresight exercise, an initiative aimed at getting industry, government and the science community to act on market and technological priorities.
While Foresight and other university-industry schemes have resulted in new research and development networks, Dr Cook argues that the majority of them are "relatively informal and have limited degrees of structure and permanence". Their informality means that their long-term survival is questionable.
Dr Cook cites the 47 Fraunhofer institutes in Germany as examples of the kind of structures that should be set up in Britain to help sustain networks. Operating in 25 research fields, the institutes have a significant strategic element of "public good" attached to their work but are also expected to meet the short and long-term needs of industry.
Dr Cook says that a formal "mixed economy model" being employed by the British Geological Survey, and which has many of the characteristics of the German institutes, could be adopted by other research establishments in Britain. He says the model enables public and private sector interests to be reconciled, ensures a return to the community and provides the private sector with access to knowledge and innovation.
The model includes a "core research programme" that is fully funded by government and focuses on long-term work, and a "partnership programme" that is cofunded by government and industry and deals with, for example, issues likely to boost industrial competitiveness or quality of life.