Spurring Innovation and Attracting Talent: The Many Benefits of University–Industry Collaboration
Universities and industry used to inhabit entirely different spheres, with little overlap in their business models, employees, and role in society. However, as industry became increasingly reliant on technological advances facilitated by academia, universities and industry began to collaborate extensively to realize greater profits and new technologies. A report by OECD highlights the increasing importance and impact of science-industry knowledge transfer, through both formal and informal channels.
Why universities need to collaborate with industry
Access to funding
Major technology and biomedical companies have deep pockets. Meanwhile, universities in many countries have precarious or restricted funding. As much as we would love to provide researchers with limitless coffers, every institution must decide how to dole out their limited budgets. In an era when many universities are struggling due to rising costs or decreased enrollment, attracting outside investment can make all the difference between realizing or scrapping a research project.
Opportunities for career development
An ongoing collaboration with commercial enterprises can attract new students to your institution, as these companies often provide opportunities in the form of internships, hands-on experience, and even full-time recruitment for new graduates. This can be especially beneficial for early career researchers.
Better opportunities for translational research
Historically, universities have focused on basic research, and to this day they still take the lion’s share of the basic research burden. Basic research is vital, but applied research both provides new opportunities to solve the problems facing humanity and gives new revenue streams that can enable further research. Industry is naturally interested in research that results in real-world innovations, so their understanding of the market can be vital to guiding successful applied research.
As well as their knowledge of bringing new products to market, industry collaborators can offer valuable technical knowledge. Industry researchers often come from different backgrounds and many of them have previous experience in academia at some of the world’s most prestigious universities and research institutions. Industry collaboration can facilitate mutually beneficial knowledge transfer.
The vital role of patenting in university–industry collaboration
Recently we have looked at the opportunities that patenting provides to researchers and their institutions, but we focused less on the benefits of patenting in collaboration with industry. In brief, patenting can help improve the collaboration between universities and partners in industry by ensuring that both parties can both benefit long-term from their research expenditures. Historically, private companies have contributed more to patents than universities, but the number of patents coming from universities has grown substantially. These new opportunities are just too good for industry to pass up, and founding a robust technology transfer office is increasingly a must-do for any university hoping to remain financially stable and competitive.
Examples of successful university-industry collaboration
Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Madras Research Park
India’s IIT system of public technical universities have gained increasing attention and prestige worldwide. IIT Madras is one of their oldest and most famous institutions, and in recent years it has gained accolades for being the top university in India for patents and commercialization.
This impressive track record is in no small part driven by the IIT Madras Research Park (IITMRP). As India’s first university research park, it is spearheading India’s drive to promote greater integration between universities and industry, and to date it boasts over 70 commercial partnerships and 200 startups launched by its incubator. Of note, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited R&D Gateway has been particularly successful in realizing 33 new commercial projects at IITMRP.
Osaka University Co-Creation Bureau
While Japanese universities enjoy a good reputation for ground-breaking research, they have lagged behind other OECD nations in terms of industry collaboration and commercial revenues. In recognition of this issue, METI and MEXT, Japan’s ministries for trade and science, respectively, have compiled guidelines for improving these collaborations and launched the annual J-Innovation Hub Initiative, which recognizes successful research collaboration initiatives within Japan.
Osaka University has received multiple accolades from this scheme. One of the key drivers of this success is the Osaka University Co-Creation Bureau, which offers several options for prospective collaborators and has attracted increasing yearly revenues from research partners in industry.
Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) and Samsung
South Korea is now the world’s top nation for university–industry collaboration, making it the country to watch to understand how successful industry partnerships can be.
The most successful partnership is that between SKKU and Samsung, Korea’s behemoth conglomerate that is active in almost every industry imaginable. Since 1996, both parties have sought ever-deeper collaboration while retaining autonomy in research. Most noteworthy is their collaboration in applications for graphene materials, which had yielded hundreds of patents for each partner by 2015 and realized new synthesis methods to realize greater commercialization of graphene materials.
Increased university-industry collaboration is crucial for the future as it can facilitate the development of innovative products and solutions that can address societal challenges. By working together, universities can benefit from the practical experience and resources of industry partners, while industry partners can gain access to cutting-edge research and highly skilled graduates. This can increase the competitiveness of both academia and industry on a global scale. University–industry collaboration ultimately offers a win-win for all parties involved.
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