Collaborating with business increases academic productivity
The list of benefits when it comes to university-business collaborations is hearteningly long. For both parties, the advantages of bridging the gap between academia and industry are resoundingly positive and in many cases, lucrative.
While businesses get access to the latest research and thinking in their field, along with cutting edge technology that they otherwise may not be able to afford, universities also get to learn from the forward thinkers who are out there in the market putting theories to the test.
The valuable commercialisation of groundbreaking research and inventions often relies on the links between the two. And so many companies, especially in the booming tech market, rely on university centres for their innovation and ultimately, their success.
Not to mention the positive impacts on wider society – be it economic, environmental, or societal.
Well, there is now one more benefit to add to the list. One that is no less significant than boosts to business or groundbreaking inventions, but one that gets far less publicity.
A study published in the Journal of Science and Public Policy shows researchers and research groups who collaborate with business organisations are scientifically more productive, and that the intellectual and scientific impacts of the partnership are positive.
The lead on the study, Professor Renato de Castro Garcia from the University of Campinas Economics Institute, presented his finding to the 8th annual meeting of the Global Research Council in early May.
His research surveyed 1,005 researchers and representatives of research centres, all of whom collaborate with businesses but on a varying scale of involvement.
The study divided researchers into those who interacted regularly and those who interacted only once with business organisations.
“We found that commercial factors were important for both groups,” Garcia said.
“However, those who interacted regularly saw intellectual benefits such as new ideas for projects or scientific publications.”
It’s not the only study to come to this conclusion. Earlier research from the London Business School (LBS) and University of Southern California (USC) found research collaborations – in certain situations – can lead to more publications but fewer patents than similar academic studies without industry partners.
This pushes back against thinking in some academic circles that university-industry collaboration may corrupt the academic ideal of open sciences and reduce academic productivity. These findings indicate that such collaboration can actually stimulate open science and increase academic productivity, rather than weaken it.
Sceptics of collaboration within the field of scientific research have previously put forward the argument that such relationships with industry have been heavily skewed in favour of corporate interests. They believe this leaves little benefit for the research teams and associated university, and instead erodes academic productivity and other norms of science in academia.
But, as these studies show, that is not the case and a mutually beneficial arrangement can, in fact, be struck.
To draw their conclusions, researchers at LBS and USC tracked the success of similar scientific discoveries made by different teams at the same time.
They found multiple scientists who had made roughly the same discovery at similar times and then tracked the subsequent research trajectories of those who collaborated with industry on the discovery and those who did not.
The statistical analysis showed extremely strong significant relationships between industry collaboration and increased publications. Collaboration also demonstrated a decrease in patenting – a factor long considered to be a restrictor of academic openness.
Another benefit to academics is access to the industries resources and, in many cases, a business’s own research.
Márcia Rapini of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) found when examining university-business collaboration in Brazil, that there was increased interaction and productivity when firms have their own internal research and development (R&D) departments.
“When a firm produces knowledge internally, it tends to want to reach out to academia. Firms that merely survive don’t produce knowledge,” Rapini said.
Bringing together this knowledge and combining resources does what many have long believed – results in a win-win for both business and university.
As interest in university-business collaborations continues to grow – both in academia and in government policy – increased productivity can now be added to the list of benefits.