Speaking at the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee inquiry into business-university collaboration, Martin Dawson said that in order to give the Fraunhofer model a “proper chance” in the UK more than one centre would be needed.
The head of the Fraunhofer Centre in Advanced Photonics and research director of the Institute of Photonics at the University of Strathclyde added: “Everyone involved would like to see a cautious expansion.”
Fraunhofer centres are based on a German model for applied technology institutions that offer research and development services to industry. The UK’s first centre was established in 2012 and is linked to the University of Strathclyde.
Professor Dawson said that in its first year the UK centre had won eight Technology Strategy Board (TSB) projects, three funding awards under the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme and a number of direct industrial contracts.
It is not yet clear which areas of technology any new centres would cover or where they would be based. But Professor Dawson said that it would be cheaper to establish Fraunhofer centres than new Catapult innovation centres, which are overseen by the TSB.
The committee heard that Fraunhofer centres are “distinctly different” from the Catapults because they focus on a specific, well-defined core technology and have a close relationship with one university.
Catapults, however, draw on a range of technologies to address broad societal themes and challenges, and may work with several universities.
Professor Dawson said that Fraunhofer centres could offer the underpinning technology requirements for the Catapult centres.
The centres also have a formal requirement to train students in volume. A typical German institute employs 200 people, of whom 100 are PhD students, he added.
Fraunhofer centres have been running in Germany for more than 40 years. The country has 66 centres that cover a wide range of research areas including algorithyms and scientific computing, marine biotechnology and open communication systems.
The centres employ more than 22,000 people and have a €1.9 billion (£1.56 billion) research budget.