Campus bid for business

December 12, 1997

UNIVERSITIES could take on responsibility for some of the basic research carried out in large firms, generating a new marketplace for academics, says Daniel McCaughan, chief scientist at Nortel, the telecommunications giant.

Speaking yesterday at the first of six seminars on research and development for industry at the Royal Academy of Engineering, Dr McCaughan said in-house company research accounts for at least half the research and development expenditure in the United Kingdom. Income from the research and funding councils, meanwhile, accounts for just 7 to 8 per cent. He argued that it may be possible for industry-based research to be done more effectively in universities.

Dr McCaughan estimates most large firms spend up to 40 to 50 per cent of their research budget on maintaining their current product line, another 30 to 40 per cent on research for the next one to three years, and 10 to 20 per cent on long-term research. "That 10 to 20 per cent does not all have to be done internally - indeed neither does the 35 per cent nor even all of the 40 to 50 per cent," he said. Under a new partnership between higher education and industry it could be possible for universities to take on some of the long-term research of businesses.

Dr McCaughan stressed that he was not advocating that funds raised by universities in this way should be a substitute for existing funds. And neither was he proposing cuts in basic research. "I am arguing for a whole new attitude on the part of our academic community - a new more favourable attitude to working with industry, not from grudging necessity but from a desire for partnership and change," he said.

He suggested that the government think about setting up a new venture loan fund to help institutions establish "institutes for industrial research" with advice from industry. Strong partnerships between firms and academics have already been forged, he said, citing Warwick University's links with car makers, Cambridge University's collaboration with Microsoft and Surrey University's space satellite manufacturing arm.

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