Science parks get virtual

April 28, 1995

The heyday of the traditional science park could be over if the idea of the "virtual" science park catches on, according to Ian Dalton, director of Heriot-Watt University's research park.

Throughout the 1980s, science parks mushroomed across the university landscape, from two in 1981 (Cambridge and Heriot-Watt) to 46 today.

All told, they now house 1,200 companies employing 22,000 people, with an annual turnover of at least Pounds 1.4 billion.

Yet according to Mr Dalton, they have not been "a quick way to get rich", and they have not been hugely successful in transfering technology.

That is why science park specialists are dreaming up the science park of the future. It would have no capital-intensive property, preferring to project the university knowledge base via technology.

The virtual science park would allow dial-up access to all manner of data.

Mr Dalton said that it would be like the difference between holding a local library ticket and the British Library ticket "which gives access to an almost unlimited source of information".

Companies would benefit, especially small firms which might not be able to justify relocating to a science park.

So too would universities, because they would create a larger pool of customers, "a floating virtual park tenant population, composed of external companies accessing its human and information resources on a transitory, dial-up basis".

They would also be able to team up with other national and international university science parks, acting as "intermediaries or technology brokers", which would improve their value to local customers.

A prototype is expected to begin at Leeds University, which is promoting the virtual science park model, and which is teaming up with other European universities, Heriot-Watt, Bristol, Amsterdam, Bari, Chalmers, Eindhoven, Ghent, Limerick, Patras and Trieste.

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