The Lambert review has recognised that there is a skills gap in knowledge transfer and that, at best, current training and continuing professional development provide only limited support.
While Auril supports the review, two major issues emerging are the need for more consistent and permanent streams of funding for third-leg activity and the need to recognise knowledge transfer as a profession.
Unless these are addressed, the academic community and support services may fail to attract experienced people from industry and other sectors to refresh and replenish the skill sets required for effective partnership.
You could view the landscape as bleak, but I see a vibrant, dynamic and highly creative environment, albeit one pressurised by the sheer scale and diversity of activities being delivered. Successive bidding rounds for funding, new multidimensional, interdisciplinary partnerships and collaborations, legislative complexity and aggressive negotiating characterise the daily workload. Universities are joined by public sector research organisations, companies from microbusinesses to multinationals, business advisory and support agencies, regional development agencies, voluntary organisations and charities, the National Health Service - the list goes on.
As we await publication of the Higher Education Innovation Fund guidelines, many knowledge-transfer practitioners are looking to their own personal futures, unsure of the sustainability of the funding of their posts. One consolidated fund to support knowledge transfer activities and infrastructure is certainly to be welcomed, but as a third-stream activity the size of funds available pale in comparison to other streams - teaching and research. We need to be reassured that this stream of funding will be permanent and sustained. Knowledge transfer is not an option or a fad but a core activity. It must be consistently available and of the highest quality. We need to see recognition of such activities at the most senior levels of strategic management and decision-making in our organisations. We see many political pundits looking to the future, confident in their forecast of growth in the knowledge economy, yet we seem to be failing those supporting this growth. It is crucial that we retain the skills base developed in recent times and further develop it for the future.
Have we really tried to address the needs of a growing body of largely highly skilled individuals working at that complex interface between the knowledge generators and the knowledge users? Have we effectively engaged leaders, senior managers and policy makers in this? It is time to recognise knowledge transfer as a profession and support the future of this profession through the development of appropriate national standards and routes to accredited qualifications.
A number of years of persistent lobbying by Auril has undoubtedly led to the government's recent announcement of a £1 million fund to boost knowledge transfer training. The funding, allocated to a consortium of Auril, the UK University Technology Transfer Training Programme (Praxis) and University Companies Association, over a two-year period, will certainly go some way towards addressing the need for professionally trained individuals, but this will not be enough. People generating and sustaining knowledge transfer activities need a clear career path and recognised training. Further funding will be needed if a professional Knowledge Transfer Institute is to be born. This will be essential to oversee the development and management of knowledge transfer professional standards and qualifications across the UK, Europe and internationally.
Greater investment and professional recognition is critical. Only then can we create a culture where knowledge exchange is treated equally to teaching and research.
Chair, Association of University Research and Industry Links (Auril)