Research plans will ruin links, warns CBI

October 3, 2003

Employer-friendly initiatives fail to win over business sector, The THES reports

The Confederation of British Industry has launched a stinging attack on government plans for reforming university research policy, saying they will destroy links with UK business.

In a response to five higher education consultations, the CBI warned: "The position is finely balanced and issues such as intellectual property and the cost of research could easily threaten relationships." It said the government was failing to understand the relationship between business and universities. Proposals to let universities hold on to intellectual property arising from joint research and plans to charge business the full costs for research were "wholly unacceptable".

Digby Jones, CBI director general, said the reviews failed to recognise genuine research partnerships. "This is not about business taking advantage of cheap labour in the universities or seeking to exploit their discoveries unfairly. Both sides bring expertise and resources to the party and the sharing of costs and benefits should be agreed between them."

He went on to criticise proposals for a new research assessment exercise, saying it would hold back a knowledge economy. "The funding councils seem to have backtracked on their commitment to recognise and reward research that is directly relevant to industry. Research for its own sake will not help achieve the chancellor's drive for improved productivity through innovation."

The single-paper response to the consultations said the proposed research capacity assessment and higher-level research quality assessment must accept that quality can be judged from the business or research-user perspective as well as by peer review. It also recommended that project partners agree the assignment of intellectual property to reflect the input and risk taken by both. Costing should take into account cash and contributions in kind, such as access to equipment, knowledge and associated kudos.

Third-stream funding through the Higher Education Innovation Fund should focus on collaboration with business, not on the generation of knowledge that is then pushed out. The fund should also retain a national focus, rather than force universities to work with regional development agencies.

The CBI described the plethora of consultations being conducted as a "web of disconnected reviews". It is one of many organisations to complain of the government's lack of joined-up thinking in having so many reviews.

Sir Gareth Roberts' consultation to reform the research assessment exercise and the Office for Science and Technology's review of sustainability of university research closed on Tuesday. Consultations from the Higher Education Funding Council for England on research funding and centres of excellence for teaching and learning are ongoing, as is Hefce's call for proposals for the second Heif.

Meanwhile, it is expected that the Department of Trade and Industry's innovation review and Richard Lambert's review of university business links will report by the end of October.

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