Research cash up for grabs by firms

March 10, 1995

Research council money which now goes to universities would be available for bids from industry under proposals being considered by the Office of Science and Technology.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's Innovative Manufacturing Initiative and the industry-university scheme Link would be among the first programmes put up for grabs. Such a move would be welcomed by small research and development firms, particularly those represented by the Association of Independent Research and Technology Organisations (Airto).

At the moment their involvement in such projects as Link is restricted to such activities as selling universities time on their special equipment or being contracted to carry out specific tasks.

Other EPSRC initiatives which are likely to be opened up to industry include the design and integrated production programme and the marine technology scheme.

Council officials claim that industrial access to curiosity-driven work has been specifically ruled out because firms are not able to train personnel for core competencies. But at a later stage it may want to involve research firms which are able to integrate academics and students within their facilities - a move that would revive on a small scale the concept of Faraday Centres, originally proposed as the United Kingdom's answer to Germany's Fraunhofer Institutes. These have created an interface between academics and industry.

The call for setting up Faraday Centres was rejected by the science White Paper, Realising Our Potential, two years ago. EPSRC officials say that the council may set up a small number of such centres at firms, depending on the results of the Technology Foresight exercise which will determine whether they are required and in what areas.

Many Airto firms have suffered from the withdrawal of the Department of Trade and Industry from funding industrial research over the past two years. They want to use schemes such as Link and the Innovative Manufacturing Initiative to make up for this loss.

But the Office of Science and Technology wants to avoid having funding driven by these concerns and wants company bids to compete with universities.

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