President’s editorial: We need arenas where business and research can meet

Wednesday 12 December 2018

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In a knowledge-intensive economy like Sweden’s it is critical to ensure that business and industry benefit from research results generated at our seats of learning. Fortunately, interest among companies and universities in collaboration is increasing.

Successful collaboration is not always easy. It involves a meeting of two different cultures with different driving forces. Businesses want commercial success today, whereas researchers are inspired by and recognised for discoveries that, in many cases, will only benefit society much later on. Successful collaboration between the research and business worlds requires the parties to understand and accept these different time perspectives. Also, policy-makers must recognise collaboration as a mission that requires resources over and above those allocated for research and education.

At the beginning of February Professor Pam Fredman will present a report from a government commission to study governance and resources in higher education (Styr- och resursutredningen, Strut). Hopes are high that the report will contain the necessary proposals for a financing model that rewards – to a far greater extent than today – initiatives within the framework of the third mission.

Commercialisation of research is about much more than creating commercial products. Many public services and processes need to be developed through research partnerships. But here too, the incentives are too weak today for universities to forcefully pursue this urgent mission.

We frequently see commercialisation in a perspective that is too narrow, and we often forget perhaps the most important messengers – the students. The point of higher education is that it is based on the freshest research results and the latest knowledge. New engineering graduates and other experts take this with them out into the workplace. That is why it is important for Swedish universities to succeed, in practical terms, in ensuring that teaching is an important priority for all professors – especially those whose research is at the forefront.

Industrial PhDs are another way of allowing research to play a role in an enterprise’s daily operations. Large corporations are used to working in cooperation with industrial PhD students, but small and medium-sized enterprises rarely have the capacity to accommodate them. Financial and other forms of support are therefore needed to make partnerships possible between smaller businesses and universities.

Increased cooperation and commercialisation require more than resources and incentives. They also need inspiration through good examples and arenas where researchers and enterprises can meet. Analysis to understand the success factors is also important.

In IVA’s Research2Business project, we are starting to look for answers to the most important questions and to create an arena to stimulate collaboration. One important method is presenting good examples. On 20 March we will turn the entire IVA building into an exciting meetingplace for researchers and enterprises at a R2B Summit. Right now we are in full swing looking for the most exciting researchers and research teams who are working with some aspect of digitalisation.