Knowledge Transfer and Maximising the Benefits of Research
One of the key motivations behind the increases in Government funding for research over the past decade ? before the cuts in funding for the Research Councils in the coming ﬁnancial year that were announced a few weeks ago ? has been the belief that a healthy research base is a fundamental underpinning of a vibrant economy and society. Hence there has been an increasing emphasis on knowledge transfer: seeking to ensure that there is a return on the investment in research in the form of social and economic beneﬁts. As RCUK puts it
“The Government?s vision is that the UK should be one of the most attractive locations in the world for science and innovation, being a key knowledge hub in the global economy, with a reputation not only for outstanding scientiﬁc and technical discovery, but also a world leader at turning that knowledge into new products and services.”
Both the Government and the Research Councils have thus been thinking about how to increase the economic impact of research. Last year, Sir Keith O?Nions, the Director-General of Science and Innovation at the OSI, asked Peter Warry, the Chair of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, to establish a group of experts drawn from academia, business, and the Research Councils to advise him on how Research Councils could deliver ? and demonstrate they are delivering ? a major increase in the economic impact of their investments.
Following the publication of their report last summer, RCUK published in January this year an Action Plan setting out how the Research Councils aim to achieve ?a step change in the economic impact of our investments?.
But it is not just the Research Councils who have been thinking about these issues. For the Funding Councils also one of the key elements in strategy is to strengthen the higher education sector?s contribution to the economy and society, through the inelegantly-named 3rd stream agenda.
Much of the discussion in this area over the past few years has been around the question of how better to exploit the knowledge and intellectual property that researchers create. And there has sometimes been a tension between the aims of exploitation on the one hand, and the wider dissemination of research that is funded as a public good on the other. In this context it was interesting to hear the keynote address from Professor David Eastwood, the Chief Executive of HEFCE, at the JISC Annual Conference this week.
For while emphasising the importance of business and community engagement to make the most of the knowledge and intellectual property that is generated by the HE sector, Professor Eastwood said that transfer of intellectual property is now the key goal, rather than seeking to exploit it (and the ﬁnancial returns to universities from IP have been on the whole rather modest).
That could mark a signiﬁcant shift in thinking about how to maximise the beneﬁts to the UK economy and society from public investment in research. And there are of course some key relationships between this kind of thinking and the debates about how the information outputs from research are made as widely and rapidly available as possible, to all who have an interest in them both in the research community and beyond.