Dual appointments ‘fail to improve’ collaboration with industry

Researchers jointly employed by commercial organisations less likely to partner outside academia

August 5, 2018
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Dual academic appointments with commercial organisations fail to drive up research collaborations between universities and industry, according to a study.

Joint appointments are often heralded as an effective way of improving academic-industry partnerships and knowledge exchange, but analysis of a sample of 7,773 European researchers suggests that this is not the case.

Of the sample, based on data collected by the European Commission as part of its Mobility Patterns and Career Paths of European Union Researchers project between 2011 and 2013, 16 per cent of participants had dual-appointment positions with the public or private sector, and 53 per cent reported having collaborations outside academia.

However, Italian and Hong Kong researchers who studied the dataset found that the relationship between dual appointments with the private sector and research collaboration outside academia was negative and statistically significant.

Only the relationship between public-sector dual appointments and research collaboration was positive and also significant.

Writing in Studies in Higher Education, Mattia Cattaneo and Michele Meoli of the University of Bergamo and Hugo Horta of the University of Hong Kong suggest that this might reflect the varying backgrounds of researchers involved in different types of collaborations.

The average academic who has a private-sector appointment tends to work in the medical sciences and has no teaching load, whereas those who collaborate with the public sector tend to have worked outside academia before joining a university and come from a wider range of disciplines.

This suggests that academics with a dual appointment with the private sector are “more independent” and “less engaged with the university”, the trio write.

The paper adds that academics who have dual appointments are typically on fixed-term contracts, and these terms are associated with fewer research collaborations outside academia.

“The precariousness of dual-appointment contracts may invalidate [academics’] ability to promote research collaborations outside academia,” the paper says. In addition, hiring organisations, particularly those in the private sector, might “not have the expertise and knowledge capacity to engage in research collaborations” with universities.

Dr Cattaneo, assistant professor of business economics and organisation at Bergamo, told Times Higher Education that that data indicated that dual appointments “are not always effective in boosting research collaborations”.

“Dual appointments in the private sector are even detrimental to research collaborations with private entities,” he said. “Our interpretation is that these academics are more business-oriented than others – generally, those involved in these collaborations are driven by financial motives rather than reputation reward or intrinsic satisfaction.

“Academics involved in private dual appointments represent the business side of the relationships themselves, being therefore less interested in looking for collaborations aimed at developing consulting projects with a private entity.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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