Citations won’t boost bottom line

Publication not always relevant to business success, industry and sector figures argue

March 21, 2013

Source: Alamy

Word search: emphasis on citations could have ‘adverse’ effect

Too much emphasis on academic publication and citation in UK research assessment could have an adverse effect on commercialisation, a former president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology has warned.

Mike Short, vice-president at Telefónica Europe, told a Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar on 14 March that although citations were an important measure from the point of view of academic career development, for industry they were not always so relevant.

Dr Short said that there should be clarity about when making use of citations was necessary, but added that it was also important to realise that the “impact on industry could be adverse if we over-rely on [them]”.

“We don’t want to, for example, declare research results before patents have perhaps been filed,” he said.

In many disciplines within the research excellence framework, the outputs of research - which contribute 65 per cent of overall assessment - are expected to be published academic papers. In 11 of 36 REF discipline subpanels, including clinical medicine and physics, citation data will also inform the assessment of research quality.

Speaking to Times Higher Education after the event, Dr Short welcomed efforts to recognise the “impact” of research in the REF: based on case studies, this will make up 20 per cent of overall assessment in 2014. But he said that metrics other than citations were needed in order to balance incentives, such as whether research had brought products to market, produced jobs or helped transfer skills.

There was often a different emphasis on publication outside the UK, he added. “In the US, for example, you can have an agreement between the university and company, delaying publication until it’s agreed by both parties,” Dr Short said.

His comments came in the week that the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee warned that UK businesses are being failed by the government’s lack of a “coherent strategy to support the commercialisation of technological innovation in the UK”.

The report, Bridging the Valley of Death: Improving the Commercialisation of Research, says that while academic research is the “jewel in the crown of UK innovation activity”, a lack of finance for companies left technologies to be exploited by competitors abroad.

Also speaking at the seminar was Stephen Caddick, vice-provost for enterprise at University College London, who said that innovation funding should continue to be distributed as it is now. However, this was only because the sector could not afford to wait for a joined-up policy on innovation if it was to tackle “the immediate and important imperative of jobs and growth”.

He added that the government needed to carry on making the case for investment in research, innovation and translation, and to create tax incentives for businesses, while universities needed to redouble their efforts.

“We need to stop being bureaucratic, we need to stop being so risk-averse and we need to foster the culture of entrepreneurship,” Professor Caddick concluded.

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