King's consultancy arm aims to protect academics' profits

October 1, 2004

Making money from consultancy - one of the few perks left to poorly paid academics - is under threat from reforms designed to account more clearly for university finances.

But now King's College London has created a dedicated consultancy arm that it hopes will encourage academics to formalise their dealings with businesses.

Crucially, the new unit will not require academics to share any of their profits with the university.

It is the latest addition to the sector, which is trying to police a process so long ingrained in academic culture that no university knows exactly how much consulting work is being carried out or how much revenue it generates.

Sandy Gourlay, manager of KCL Consultancy, said that until now there was no real support in place for King's academics who perform consultancy work.

He said: "They're being left to their own initiative. We expect many are undertaking private consultancy without all the necessary safeguards to themselves and/or the college."

KCL academic contracts already allow researchers to carry out up to 30 days of consultancy a year with the permission of the department head.

Persuading academics to go through the office will be a challenge, and King's hopes to meet this by ensuring that none of the income generated is taken by the university.

The office will levy a small fee on each contract won, but all other proceeds will return to the academic or their department.

Government drives on full economic costing of research are putting pressure on universities to know exactly what their facilities are being used for at any moment, threatening a clampdown on private consultancy work.

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