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Working with the Academic Sector

NIC Document

Summary

The academic sector offers a range of benefits for innovators. This guide highlights some of the key issues and challenges of working with academia.

In brief

  1. Benefits of working with the academic sector
  2. Barriers to working with the academic sector
  3. Access to the academic sector
  4. Confidentiality
  5. Funding for collaborating with the academic sector

Introduction

Developing a new idea or concept within the medical device/healthcare sector is often a multidisciplinary activity that draws on a range of skills from teams of individuals and organisations. Financial and organisational restraints mean that all the required skills, both technical and managerial, rarely exist within one company, so you may need to source essential know-how and technical capability through outside resources. The UK academic sector is an excellent, accessible source. Universities can add value to individual companies and industries by sharing the knowledge and expertise of their staff and students. They can also provide access to resources beyond the restricted financial and logistical resource of companies, particularly for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs).

Benefits of working with the academic sector

Support available through the academic sector ranges from short (typically 1-5 days’ assistance) with testing, design, etc., through longer student and graduate placement projects, to complete research contracts. Full or partial funding is available in many cases. Support includes:

Access to know-how and capabilities: There is a huge pool of knowledge across a wide range of technology fields within the UK academic sector. You can access this knowledge through consultancy or funded projects. As well as many excellent university departments, there are a variety of research institutes as well as Interdisciplinary Research Centres and Centres of Excellence.

Recruitment: Universities can support businesses through research projects, including work placements and graduate recruitment. Two ways in which companies can ‘trial’ future recruits are Industrial CASE Studentships (http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

Technology licensing: Universities regularly develop Intellectual Property (IP) such as concepts, ideas and technology, of benefit to companies and industry. Much of this IP can be licensed to companies seeking to improve product portfolios or diversify their operations.


Barriers to working with the academic sector

Difficulties and concerns, whether real or perceived, about collaborating with the academic sector include:
  • Whether universities are business focused and understand timescales and commercial culture – the primary focus of universities is teaching and publications, which can impact on their understanding of commercial timescales and deliverables
  • IP – Universities can be naive about IP, e.g., they sometimes overvalue their IP and do not necessarily appreciate the costs of IP commercialisation
  • Confidentiality of new technology – the natural driver for staff and students at universities is to publish their work, which benefits their career development.

Access to the academic sector

Academic business liaison/support departments Individual UK universities have established business liaison/support departments (sometimes called technology transfer offices) to act as ‘one-stop shops’ for companies wanting to link with the academic sector. These dedicated departments support companies at every possible step of the development process, whether developing a company’s technology, staff training or licensing technology from the university. They work with both parties to make sure that they draw up a mutually beneficial contract (including confidentiality agreements) before work starts, that the project is managed professionally, that the research is business focused and that deadlines are met.

Academic business support (across academic institutions): The importance of good relationships between academia and industry has led to new bodies being established to help manage relationships between larger groups of universities. At national level, the Association for University Research and Industry Links (AURIL) establishes best practice for the transfer of technology from one organisation to another. Find out more by visiting: www.auril.org.uk.

Confidentiality

University business liaison departments understand the need for confidentiality when developing new ideas or concepts. They will make sure that a mutually beneficial contract is in place before work begins. IPR agreements are usually the basis of formal contracts. You can find model agreements which may beneficial in negotiations at: www.innovation.gov.uk

Funding for collaborating with the academic sector

Finance is a major issue when you’re looking at developing a new idea, concept and/or technology. Companies often highlight cost as the key barrier to working with the academic sector. You can find further information in other guides, including ‘Grant for Research and Development’ and ‘Where to Go for Funding’.