Matchmaking tool Konfer seeks to boost university-industry links

As research funding becomes increasingly linked with impact assessment, academics will need help seeking out business partners, sector leaders say

November 18, 2017
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Perfectly paired? ‘in an era of LinkedIn and Match.com…we’re making it easier for individuals to connect'

A university-to-business matchmaking tool based on the likes of dating website Match.com could prove a simple way to increase industry collaboration, according to sector leaders behind its launch.

Described as a “Google meets LinkedIn for university collaboration”, Konfer allows UK-based researchers and companies to search for any expert, scholarly paper, specialist equipment or business partner, and contact the relevant person directly via email.

Funded by Research Councils UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the tool allows academics quickly and easily “to search for impact and funding partners, or just to share the sheer joy of knowledge”, according to the program’s developers at the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB).

Konfer could have a significant impact on the sector ahead of the launch of a new knowledge exchange framework that will measure English universities’ industry collaboration activities.

There are already some smaller-scale brokering tools to pair institutions with clients and translate inventions into commercial products – something that Jo Johnson, the universities minister, has said he is particularly keen for universities to improve on in the coming years under the government’s industrial strategy.

However, Konfer is the first to receive such a high-profile inauguration, with backing from Sir Mark Walport, chair of UK Research and Innovation, and David Sweeney, executive chair-designate of Research England.

Sceptics might argue that the last thing anyone in business or research needs is another app to flood inboxes with more emails and requests. But the program’s developers insist that tools such as Konfer will become increasingly necessary as institutions embrace technology to help boost the impact agenda.

“We don’t want academics to do anything that they’re not already doing in terms of admin, it’s just a question of making it easier for individuals to connect,” David Docherty, NCUB’s chief executive, told Times Higher Education.

“Previously it’s been argued that the problem is not with the universities, it’s with the businesses; but if you talk to businesses [they will tell you that] they often don’t know where to go half the time. So in an era of LinkedIn and Match.com and creating front doors, that’s what we’ve done.”

Konfer boasts access to almost 120,000 academics, more than 1.5 million web pages, 62,000 YouTube videos from university channels and 200,000-plus news stories, funding opportunities and events.

Dr Docherty added: “The key thing is that, as academics are increasingly having funding linked to impact, more people will need more partners. So they’ll need ways of more easily connecting to businesses and other organisations.

“There is a culture change that’s been going on in universities over the past 10 years. People are much more interested in working outside the university…finding partners is part and parcel of what a young academic’s life is now.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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