Benefits of Membership/Facing the Research Challenge
A new model of university-industry partnerships will be required to solve the grand challenges facing a wide variety of domains, including Big Data Analytics, Life Sciences, Advanced Materials, and also to a degree Clean Energy. The potential applications of new technologies being developed in these domains are creating a buzz of excitement within both universities and the private sector. However, to maximize the opportunity presented by these technologies, university and industry need to identify a new way of working together that meets the needs of the 21st century research landscape.
Currently, there is a perceived disconnect between the motivations driving university research and the needs of industry. Industry is usually market-driven, while academia tends to follow the market only if sponsored research guides it in that direction, creating a potential gap both of focus and timing.
The existing university research model was shaped by a post-WWII federal funding model that encouraged depth within individual disciplines and individual research labs. This model is ill-suited to the multi-disciplinary approach required to solve grand challenges that involve a complex set of forces and multiple bodies of knowledge.
The available federal funding for research is flat or declining in real terms even as the private sector has pared down its industrial research units and pushed research upstream into universities. The combination of these factors has increased pressure on universities to do more with fewer resources and has weakened the pool of resources available for foundational research, which is a key driver of the country’s innovative capacity.
Meanwhile, there is a growing interest in entrepreneurship on university campuses. Universities are now exploring ways to tap this increase in entrepreneurial energy for future areas of knowledge, talent and revenue generation.
We need to identify a new and better approach to university-industry partnerships that will drive foundational research and also bridge the gap between basic and translational research in order to deliver the market impact that industry seeks. Clearly, there are unmet needs on both sides of the university-industry border. The existence of such a gap is particularly felt in a state such as Massachusetts with its rich academic clusters.
The public sector can and should play a key role in enabling and creating incentives for such partnerships in order to counteract diminishing resources and political will for publicly funding university research. The Innovation Partnerships Network research will lead to state and federal policy recommendations to better support a robust system of partnerships, which would benefit universities, industry, the public sector and the public at large by addressing the growing concern that the U.S. may be falling behind other countries in its innovative capacity over the longer term.
Drafted by Innovation Partnerships Network Lead Consultants:
- Jack Wilson, UMass president emeritus
- Bhaskar Chakravorti, director of the Fletcher School’s Institute for Business in the Global Context