Brussels, 06 Oct 2005
The Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CaSE) has stressed the importance of commercialising university research whilst, at the same time, maintaining the independence of universities.
The UK has seen protests recently over the funding of university research by industry. The protesters are, however, confusing the need to generate economic benefits from research with the importance of ensuring that universities are free to conduct research according to their own priorities, according to CaSE.
'It would be absurd not to commercialise research with potential applications that might bring economic, social, health or environmental benefits. Industry is essential to the development process, because companies can inject money into the venture, because they are more likely to have people with the right commercial skills, and because researchers from the private and public sectors can share experiences and learn from one another,' wrote CaSE in a letter to the UK newspaper the Times.
CaSE concedes however that it is increasingly difficult for universities to carry out curiosity-driven research: 'Government funding schemes that are only unlocked when universities raise 'matching funding' are clearly only available in areas where someone else (usually an industrial company) has enough interest to expend large sums of its own money. More and more public funding is distributed in this way, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to fund truly 'blue-sky' research,' states CaSE.
This situation is not only upsetting researchers, but, according to CaSE, is harmful to the economy in the long term. The organisation argues that it is fundamental research that generates new ideas, upon which applied and commercial research is later based.
The European Commission is also of this opinion, and therefore intends to establish a European Research Council for the funding of basic research. According to the Commission's proposal, projects will be funded on the basis of proposals presented by researchers on subjects of their choice, and evaluated on the sole criterion of excellence as judged by peer review.