The Dowling Review of Business University Research Collaborations - recommendations

This independent review by Professor Dame Ann Dowling was announced as part of the government’s science and innovation strategy in December 2014. 

09/07/2015, news

The review makes recommendations for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills on how government can:

  • Support relationships between UK businesses and the UKs world leading university researchers by reducing complexity
  • Foster and support relationships between researchers and business, particularly for smaller firms looking to innovate

In the report Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, highlights the importance of research in tackling the productivity gap that is the biggest challenge facing the country. Business and university collaborations have a key role to play in providing businesses with new processes and technologies, highly skilled people and access to world leading experts.

The report finds that while much progress has been made in this area, more can still be done. The report makes recommendations on reducing complexity, fostering relationships and introducing effective brokerage, particularly for smaller businesses.

“We need to improve the breadth and range of connections through making it easier to connect. We need to help these relationships endure and reach their potential. For just as our global research excellence has been built up over many years, we need to apply the same sustained effort to these relationships, so that businesses can innovate and grow”, the minister said.

David Moule Deputy Chief Executive and Business Services Director at Exemplas understands both the challenges and the benefits:

“For SMEs to understand and engage with large university institutions can be a daunting task and a complex process to navigate through to the support the business might need. Anything that can be done to hand-hold the client through this process and in some cases to test the water in a working relationship with a university will be a good thing.”

A great deal is made about the benefits to business of collaborating with universities however there is much of benefit that business can bring to universities. These benefits can include the opportunity to address challenging research questions with real world applications. In addition academics can see their research have tangible impacts and gain new access to new skills, data and equipment. From the business perspective companies can improve business performance through developing new techniques or technologies, de-risk investment in research, and extend the capabilities and expertise available to the business. Investment in collaborative R&D also delivers real benefits to the UK, driving growth and productivity improvements for firms and high quality research outputs.

The key findings of the review indicate that:

  • Public support for the innovation system is too complex
  • People are central to successful collaborations
  • Effective brokerage is crucial particularly for SMEs and continued support is needed for activities that help seed collaborations
  • Pump prime funding would stimulate the development of high quality research collaborations with critical mass and sustainability
  • Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge exchange over short term income generation, and further work is required to improve approaches to contracts and IP agreements
  • Government strategy on innovation needs to be better coordinated and have greater visibility.

Businesses and universities are two very different things and encouraging more direct collaboration can be a real challenge given the very different objectives and priorities of the each party. That said the positive impacts of successful collaboration can far outweigh the challenges in finding your way through to closer working. Providing a ‘translation’ or brokerage capability to facilitate more effective communication, understanding and sometimes starting small can be a great way to navigate a way through to successful collaborations.

Full details of the recommendations of the review can be found here