ISSN 1756-297XIssue No: 0038  27 July 2008
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A research rainbow – but is commercialisation the pot of gold at the end? This week's Special Report examines how different countries and regions are tackling the commercialisation challenge.

Financial markets are wary of risky investments like research commercialisation. But big players can spread the risk. We talk to one such investor in this week's Special Report.

Super computers have become essential equipment for the world's researchers. This week's Business Section reports on efforts to ensure European scientists have access to the most powerful machines.


The Eden Project, a ground-breaking biosphere reserve in Cornwall, is a non-profit project expected to benefit from Britain’s new ‘third sector’ research scheme. See the story in this week's Business. Photo:

SPECIAL REPORT: Commercialising research

For some, the commercialisation of university research represents an elusive pot of gold – the promise of revenue that will help an institution face new challenges. But for others, the pursuit of commercial success from basic research is anathema to the university mission by stifling free exchange of ideas as discoveries are kept secret to protect all-important patent applications.

Increasingly, governments are trying to create the right environment to ensure universities’ discoveries make the leap from the lab to commercially successful products and companies. Measures range from direct financial help to tax breaks and legislative change.

For America, the powerhouse of research commercialisation, one of the biggest boosts came, not so much from government intervention, as government taking a step back from the sector. In December 1980, the federal government approved an act that gave US universities, small businesses and non-profit organisations intellectual property control of their inventions and other intellectual property that resulted from federal government funding.

Now, nations around the world are trying to create their own boom-times for research commercialisation. In Australia, the new Labor government is reviewing the national innovation system while in Europe, the European Commission’s European Research Area Green Paper has an emphasis on knowledge transfer.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s government recently decided to invest more than €30 million (US$47.6 million) in developing technology transfer offices at Irish universities. The British government has a similar approach – its higher education innovation fund distributes £110 million (US$219.5 million) a year, rising to £150 million by 2010, to higher education institutions in England to help them commercialise research.

The UK has also set up a technology strategy board to promote university and business interaction and has a knowledge partnerships scheme to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that can be found in higher education institutions.

Elsewhere, New Zealand's government has a variety of funds aimed at encouraging research organisations, including universities, to undertake research with economic benefit. In particular it has NZ$1.3 million (US$960,000) a year available as pre-seed funding specifically to bridge the gap between research and commercialisation.

Despite disquiet from some quarters, universities around the globe are under increasing pressure to commercialise the great ideas of their researchers. In this edition, our correspondents report on trends in America, Australia, Europe and New Zealand. They canvass opinion on both sides of the commercialisation debate and look at why an investor might risk millions on commercialising university research.

AUSTRALASIA: Investing in a risky business
John Gerritsen*
For many investors, the early-stage commercialisation of university research is just too risky to touch. But for big investors such as pension funds, the ability to back a range of projects makes universities’ intellectual property a viable investment opportunity. One such investor is the Australian pension fund Westscheme, which has more than A$215 million of A$2.79 billion (US$2.9 billion) in assets committed to commercialising university research.
Full report on the University World News site

US: Decline in commercialising research
Subbiah Arunachalam
Research in American universities resulted in nearly 700 new products coming on to the market in 2006 alone and more than 4,350 between1998 and 2006. That amounts to 1.32 new products based on academic inventions every single day over those nine years. Recently, however, a decline has occurred in the pace of research commercialisation.
Full report on the University World News site

EUROPE: Forum calls for easier technology transfer
Rebecca Warden
Europe must get serious about technology transfer. This was one of the conclusions of From the lab to the market, a special programme looking for ways to bridge the gap between industry and academia at the EuroScience Open Forum in Barcelona from 18 to 22 July ( Researchers, heads of university technology transfer offices and R&D managers from industry discussed what changes universities needed to make to ease the pathway from the laboratory to the marketplace.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: A thriving market
Diane Spencer
Universities make a major contribution to the British economy in collaborative research projects with industry, spin-out companies and consultancies. A recent survey showed that in 2006-07, income from collaborative research rose by 12% from the previous year to £670 million (US$1,336 million). The UK government’s higher education innovation fund distributes a total of £110 million a year, rising to £150 million by 2010, to all higher education institutions in England to help them commercialise research.
Full report on the University World News site

AUSTRALIA: Research tail wags industry dog
Geoff Maslen
Successive Australian governments have demanded the nation’s universities focus on research that has money-making possibilities. ‘Pure’ research has become a lost dream for many academics as the emphasis has increasingly been on the commercial applications of research discoveries, especially those likely to generate export income. But, as critics point out, by forcing universities to deliver commercially and economically-relevant research, the R&D ‘tail’ is expected to wag the ‘dog’ – the innovation capacity of Australian business and industry.
Full report on the University World News site

NEW ZEALAND: Value of commercialisation grows steadily
John Gerritsen*
The value of research commercialisation is growing steadily at New Zealand universities, but the exercise is more for the public good than the benefit of institutions’ balance sheets. Latest figures from Uconz, New Zealand’s national sector group for university commercialisation offices, show the country’s eight universities earned more than NZ$60 million (US$45 million) in cash and shares from the licensing of their academics’ research in the four years up to and including 2006.
Full report on the University World News site

NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report

EUROPE: Higher education’s global role
Alan Osborn
As a demonstration of how the top higher education people from across the world can meet, debate, agree and disagree without ever losing sight of their common goals as academic leaders you would find it hard to better the four-yearly conference of the UNESCO-based International Association of Universities.
Full report on the University World News site

FRANCE: Big budget increases – and big job cuts
Jane Marshall
Academics and researchers reacted with alarm to an announcement by French Higher Education and Research Minister Valérie Pécresse that their institutions faced significant losses of tenured posts next year. They accused the government of endangering French research by replacing permanent jobs with short-term contracts, and of striking “heavy blows” against scientific employment.
Full report on the University World News site

GREECE: Coimbra Group critical of Bologna
Makki Marseilles
Not everyone is enamoured with the Bologna agreement or with the way it is set up and is operating. The Coimbra Group, an association of traditional universities, is extremely sceptical of the process despite the fact Bologna is gaining friends and admirers within and outside the European Union.
Full report on the University World News site

AFRICA: New initiative to boost science
Three networks of universities in sub-Saharan Africa have been named as the first to benefit from a new partnership initiative to build scientific capacity in Africa. The Regional Initiative in Science and Education, RISE, will provide grants – each worth $800,000 – over two-and-a-half years to the three networks which are based in South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania but also involve universities in eight African countries.
Full report on the University World News site


SAUDI ARABIA: SAR demands action for detained professor
Jonathan Travis*
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about the arrest and detention of Professor Matrouk al-Faleh, a political scientist at the King Saud University in Riyadh. Al-Faleh was arrested on 19 May following the publication two days earlier of a report he wrote critical of conditions in the state security prison system.
More Academic Freedom reports on the University World News site


EUROPE: Supercomputer tackles the tough questions
Chris Chinnery
The supercomputer has changed the world we live in. For most people, the big story in computing is that of its shrinking from a machine the size of a house to a chip in a mobile phone. But modern science, technology and medicine still depend on the monsters of the computing world. Supercomputers have transformed most scientific disciplines and created new ones, such as modelling climate, new molecules, quantum mechanics and the simulation of earthquakes. Famously, the daily weather forecast relies on supercomputers. Now European computer scientists have banded together to better manage future projects.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: Not-for-profit sector gets special research centre
Diane Spencer
Britain’s Birmingham University is to lead a new three-site Third Sector Research Centre to strengthen academic services available for non-profit organisations such as charities, social enterprises and small community organisations.
Full report on the University World News site

US: New pill camera overcomes gagging
Monica Dobie
Endoscopy the old fashioned way – often uncomfortable, expensive and time consuming – is still widely used in hospitals for oesophageal cancer scans. Now, however, American university scientists have developed a pill-on-a-tether scanning device that enables physicians to control its movement, maybe replacing the camera-on-a-tube that makes patients gag.
Full report on the University World News site


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US: New digest of sustainability in higher education
The new and freely-available annual digest of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, or AASHE, documents growth in campus sustainability efforts across the US and Canada. The 230-page report features more than 800 examples of higher education institutions working towards greater sustainability, and covers education, research, campus operations, administration and finance. According to an AASHE statement: “The Digest offers ample evidence of a broadening and deepening of campus sustainability efforts, with more institutions of all types getting involved and campuses undertaking more significant measures than ever before to improve their sustainability performance.”
More on the University World News site


GLOBAL: Last adventure for maverick polymath
Obituary: Lyall Watson: 12 April 1939 – 25 June 2008
Geoff Maslen
He was born in South Africa, lived in Ireland and died in Queensland: Lyall Watson led such a remarkable and varied life it would have seemed unbelievable even as a work of fiction. Except it was probably almost all true. A hero to the 1970s New Age and alternative lifestyle hippies, Malcolm Lyall Watson has been described as a maverick scientific polymath and explorer who became famous for his best-selling book Supernature and his wacky ideas that plants are sentient, dull razor blades will sharpen if left overnight under a cardboard model of a pyramid and that oysters possess a tidal memory.
Full report on the University World News site

UNI-LATERAL: Off-beat university stories

CANADA: Fantasy sex gets professor fired
Philip Fine
A Canadian university that fired a tenured professor for off-campus conduct it labelled as “aberrant behaviour” has no role in the personal sex life, cyberspace or private affairs of its academics, says a report by the national professors’ union.
Full report on the University World News site

GLOBAL: Modern marriage – a short-term contract
Fiona Taylor*
As ‘till death do us part’ increasingly becomes ‘while my needs are met’, governments are faced with the challenge of trying to keep families together. The declining importance of religion, growing gender equality, greater acceptance of cohabitation, single-parent families and same-sex relationships are all contributing to the breakdown of traditional marriage. A new book by a Griffith Business School academic explores what governments in Australia, Britain and the US are doing to strengthen the marriage bond.
Full report on the University World News site


GLOBAL: Cyberspace abuzz over Medpedia
Cyberspace is buzzing with news of Medpedia, a global collaboration wikipedia-type project that will offer a massive amount of up-to-date medical and health information for free to anyone with an internet connection, reports Medical News Today. Among the groups that have already agreed to provide information to the initiative described as the “world’s largest collaborative online encyclopaedia of medicine” are Harvard Medical School, Stanford School of Medicine, the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health and the University of Michigan Medical School.
More on the University World News site

US: Libraries taking the (really) long view
As libraries shift more of their resources to holdings that either originate as digital or become digital through scanning, it has become clear that just because something lives in the virtual stacks does not mean it will be around forever, writes Andy Guess in Inside Higher Ed. Anyone who has ever suffered through a hard drive crash (or tried futilely to save a scratched DVD) has faced the inherent physical limitations of digital storage. Now librarians are doing the same as they determine how digital holdings fit into their central mission: preserving works so that they can be accessed not just today, not just tomorrow, but indefinitely.
More on the University World News site

CHINA: Chemical education in need of reform
China’s university chemistry departments are struggling to attract students despite the rapid expansion of the country’s higher education system, reports Chemistry World. China currently offers 198 chemistry-related science degrees and 224 chemical engineering-related technology degrees but they are failing to entice students taking national college entry exams. Many undergraduates end up on chemistry courses because they have simply failed to make the grades needed to get onto their first choice of degree course.
More on the University World News site

INDIA: States must spend more on education
The ministry of human resource development (HRD) has said the country’s gross enrolment ratio, or GER, cannot be achieved unless state governments increase their expenditure on education by at least three times, reports The Statesman.
More on the University World News site

AFRICA: Low enrolment impedes development
Low enrolment in higher education poses a series of impediments to Africa’s development, according to the Director-General of UNESCO Koichiro Matsuura, reports This Day. Speaking at the opening of the Microsoft-organised Education Leaders Forum titled “Success and Sustainability: Tertiary education’s global challenge”, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Matsuura observed that “while higher education enrolment in Africa rose by some 66% between 1999 and 2005, the average enrolment rate is still a mere 5%.”
More on the University World News site

US: Governor backs student loan plan for New York
Governor David A Paterson has called for a publicly financed, low-interest student loan programme, saying New York had fallen behind other states in making college more affordable for its residents, reports Newsday. The loan programme, a version of which was approved by the State Senate last month, is among recommendations – also including hiring 2,000 faculty and creating a $3 billion science research grant programme – from the state Commission on Higher Education, which delivered its report last week.
More on the University World News site

UK: Debt-ridden students get reality pay check
Students are running up substantial debts but earning less than they expect on graduating, research indicates. The authors of a study say that government ambitions to push half of all school-leavers into higher education could be to blame for the mismatch between expectations and reality, reports The Times.
More on the University World News site

UK: Universities boosting Olympic medal prospects
Following the finalising of the British team for the Beijing Olympics, Universities and Colleges Sport (Bucs) has hailed higher education’s influence on the current crop of athletes, reports Bucs chief executive Karen Rothery claims that 57% of athletes in the Olympic team are either students or graduates – and that a number of Beijing athletes trained with students at universities “due to the quality of facilities and coaching on offer”.
More on the University World News site


SOUTH AFRICA: Deputy Vice-Chancellors
University of Cape Town, Cape Town
Full specifications on the University World News site
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