Work with industry pays in publications - to a point

Not too little, not too much collaboration found to be optimal for productivity. John Gill reports

May 28, 2009

Perhaps it is not to the taste of some academic purists, but new research has shown that working with industry helps scholars in some fields boost their research output.

The study, which has analysed the research productivity of academics in more than 30 engineering departments over two decades, suggests that industry links lead to an increase in the number of publications - but only to a certain degree.

There is a point above which high levels of collaboration with industry start to reduce the amount academics publish in research journals, it says.

The study was conducted by three economists at City University London - Mireia Jofre-Bonet, Albert Banal-Estanol and Cornelia Meissner - and presented at a recent conference of the Royal Economic Society.

Its aim was to test the argument, as it is commonly put, that "industry collaboration and commercialisation might come at the expense of research, or at least basic research" and that "growing ties with industry might be affecting the choice of research projects, 'skewing' academic research from a basic towards an applied approach".

The authors analysed the publications, research funds and patents of researchers in 36 engineering departments in the UK between 1985 and 2007.

They found that those who obtain only public funding are likely to publish less than colleagues who receive a moderate proportion of their grants in collaboration with industry.

Their findings suggest that, for engineering academics, funding from industry of up to one third of total research funding drives up publication rates.

However, the study also found that when the proportion of industry-linked grants rises above one third, research productivity begins to decline below the level of researchers who rely solely on public funding.

In its concluding remarks, the paper says that, in general, researchers benefit from collaborating with industry, pointing out that those with no industry links are likely to be among the least productive of all.

"Nevertheless, high levels of industrial involvement affect research productivity negatively," it says.

"Our findings suggest that encouraging universities to collaborate moderately with industry, for example through transfer of technology and knowledge programmes, is a beneficial policy not only per se but also for academic productivity.

"But doing so without at the same time providing incentives to publish academic research papers may have a perverse effect and harm the quantity and quality of academic research output.

"Finally, discouraging very high levels of industry collaboration may also be advisable if research output is a desired objective."

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