Scots' system is bad for business

June 22, 2001

Three leading players in commercialising academic research have told an influential Scottish parliamentary committee that existing methods for encouraging commercialisation are inadequate.

Sir David Lane, the Dundee University cancer researcher who established spin-off company Cyclacel, Steve Beaumont, director of the Institute for System Level Integration in the Alba Centre, and Brendan Hyland, who founded the Kymata optoelectronics business, gave evidence to the parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee.

The committee is reviewing the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's strategy for funding research.

Professor Beaumont said that while commercialisation was excellent for the Scottish economy, it had a knock-on effect on the research base in reducing the availability of academics and draining staff from institutions.

Professor Lane said funding pressures meant universities had started to look to commercialisation for short-term returns. "However, when creating an industry, one must look forward five or ten years. Universities need schemes that will compensate them for the effect of commercialisation over that timescale," he said.

"It is crucial that we have schemes that encourage entrepreneurial academics. Universities do not want to lose those key players, so there must be support for such activity."

Professor Beaumont said he had come across a number of cases where staff felt they were held back as a result of carrying out commercial rather than fundamental research. He said research and promotion procedures needed to be overhauled.

Mr Hyland believed the measurements of academic research were "probably fundamentally wrong" for society. "What you measure is what you get. We measure the number of papers that people publish so we get lots of papers," he said.

Mr Hyland urged a significant shift in research assessment funding support, with 70 per cent focusing on applied research and only 30 per cent on basic research.

"The Scottish government should take a much more dirigiste approach at a parliament level, through close cooperation with Scottish Enterprise or Shefc or whatever." He said the Scots government should focus its limited resources on key strategic technologies.

Professor Lane said university timing was also a serious barrier. Technology transfer decisions that ideally should be taken in a week usually took a year.

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