Dowling Review highlights gaps in academic-business collaborations

The Dowling Review of Business-University Research Collaborations, released in July 2015, examined how Government can better support the development of effective collaborations between businesses and university researchers in the UK.

Effective research-industry partnerships provide multiple benefits for both business and academia, providing researchers with opportunity to address research challenges in real-world applications and to see tangible impact of their work; and for business to improve performance with new technologies or techniques, and extend capabilities. 

There have been an increasing number and different types of these collaborations in the engineering sector in the UK in the past years, but an increasingly complex landscape of funding and brokerage schemes is causing frustration from both industry and academics and creating barriers to long term partnerships.

The overall objective of the Dowling Review was to help researchers better understand the interests of industry, and identify benefits to the UK through linking the long-term strategic needs of business with the UK's research capabilities. The review collected evidence from private and academic sectors, and builds on recent studies and policy developments, including the Industrial Strategy, to identify gaps and opportunities for further progress. 

Key messages which were brought out in the review include: 
Public support for the innovation system is too complex
This is recurring issue, particularly for construction and infrastructure sectors where innovation tends to develop from regulation and long term stresses, than traditionally competitive approaches to innovation in other engineering sectors such as automotive and mechanical. The Dowling Review recommends that government should lead in this area, reducing complexity and consolidating schemes where possible, and providing increased support for applications. 

People are central to success
The review underlines the importance of effective collaborative relationships between business and academics to delivering tangible impacts from research. 
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and CASE Studentships have been identified as particularly effective. Creating an incentive framework for universities and businesses to promote the transfer of ideas and people between academia and business, and the continued and preferably increased funding of these schemes, is recommended.

Effective brokerage is crucial, particularly for SMEs, and continued support is needed for activities that help seed collaborations
There is currently no digital tool which provides the identification of potential research partners, or signposting to support from appropriate bodies. It is identified that this could address one of the barriers in supporting SMEs in the first stages of identifying potential collaboration. Funding to kick start collaboration is available through Innovate UK and Research Councils and are considered to be very useful, particularly Higher Education Innovation Funding and Impact Acceleration Accounts.

Pump-prime funding would stimulate the development of high quality research collaborations with critical mass and sustainability
It is recommended that longer term partnerships between academia and business are encouraged, focusing research on use-inspired research, allowing academics to explore areas of business interest, and increase insights into in new areas of fundamental research. Funding is needed to encourage existing business-academic research collaborations to grow into long-term strategic partnerships. 

Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge transfer over short-term income generation, and further work is required to improve approaches to contracts and IP agreements. 
Technology transfer office funding models and success metrics need to be reconsidered to focus on the need to deliver wider public benefit and long term return on investment, rather than current approaches which focus on short term income from IPs. 

Government strategy on innovation needs to be better coordinated and have greater visibility

Universities should be considered as key partners in the development and delivery of industrial strategies, as research and innovation are crucial to meeting targets included and supporting economic growth and global competiveness in key sectors.  

The full report and related documents can be found here: Dowling Review of Business-University Research Collaborations.