UK knowledge transfer found lacking

Upcoming report says Research Councils don?t do a good job of sharing fruits of research with the larger community

By | March 29, 2006

Britain's Research Councils lack the internal skills base to do an efficient job of knowledge transfer, the authors of an internal report on the subject told the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology today (March 29). Richard Brook, director of the Leverhulme Trust, John Murphy from aerospace firm BAE Systems and Barbara Doig from the Scottish Executive, were commissioned by the Research Councils to conduct an "external challenge," and examine how well the eight government-funded councils transfer knowledge to and from business and the wider community. Their report is still in the draft stage, and is not scheduled for publication until late April or May, a spokesman for the umbrella group Research Councils UK told The Scientist. But under cross-examination by the committee of politicians, the authors confirmed that it contains "some fairly strong messages." Among those messages is the view that "there are not sufficient skilled people in house in the Research Councils to carry out knowledge transfer effectively," said Brook. The Research Councils are far from alone in suffering this shortage, he said, but nevertheless it was something that could be improved. One possible solution could be to use some kind of external facilitator to make improvements. Brook also said that the Research Councils had a ?rather limited? view of knowledge transfer, and tended to think of it as being a one-way, outward process. Responding to those comments, Doug Yarrow, director of corporate science at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council said: ?While the Research Councils recognise that there is some room for improvement, we can also point to significant success in transferring knowledge from the UK research base.? Perhaps the most important way the Research Councils support knowledge transfer is through the ?training of highly skilled PhD students who find subsequent employment as industry," he said. The spokesman added that it was difficult to calculate a monetary value for the councils? efforts because of the complexities of placing a value on activities such as training PhD students. At the evidence session, John Murphy told the committee that the research councils should focus more of their research funding on directed research, which could reap greater economic benefits. "No one in business is saying that the whole budget should be directed," he said, but "we are saying that far too big a percentage is undirected." Another area for improvement is coordination between the seven research councils, Brook said. In particular, the umbrella organization Research Councils UK could be better utilized for that purpose. "I think our view is that RCUK isn't being used as effectively as it could be," he said, adding that part of the difficulty arises because the individual research councils want to retain autonomy. Murphy noted that RCUK does have a dedicated knowledge transfer group, but said "it could do better." The research councils did engage in some sharing of good practices in knowledge transfer, he said, but again "there is big scope for improvement." Today's evidence hearing was part of an ongoing investigation by the select committee into the knowledge transfer activities of the Research Councils. The 11-member committee is empowered by parliament to examine the spending, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Technology and other science-related public bodies. Stephen Pincock Links within this article Research Councils UK ?Research Council Support for Knowledge Transfer?
Richard Brook John Murphy T. Agres, ?Tying up science,? The Scientist, January 2006

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