In recent decades, there has been outstanding development in the function of knowledge transfer from public universities to the corporate sector. However, this activity has become more difficult in the last few years, as many universities’ indicators show. Nevertheless, many collaborating companies recognize that research groups continue to generate solutions to real problems.
We are research groups with the technological knowledge and capacity to detect opportunities through contact with real, complex problems. Why then, has technology transfer activity dropped in some cases, whilst in others it has increased? Many factors are involved. On the negative side, there is a lack of incentives for knowledge transfer in academic careers, and the internal management of institutions with their own rhythms is complex.
Other less structural factors do not help. The first is the recession, which has limited the capacity of companies to invest in research, development and innovation: a high risk activity that is mitigated through financial assistance and loans. There have been dramatic cuts in loans and financial aid, and the complexity of their management has increased. In addition, new stakeholders with a high financial capacity and a different form of governance have emerged as competitors in the same area. This competition is welcome, and will bring improvements all around; but the public university must adapt to compete in this new context.
It is true that some universities are increasing their knowledge and technology transfer activity every year. They are the institutions that take advantage of opportunities to work in bigger, specialized groups on interdisciplinary projects. Projects are attracted by specific units that actively promote the university to companies, and put pressure on the public administration, as do the other agents in the system.
The capacity and experience of research groups does the rest. Public universities must maintain their functions of creating and transferring knowledge, but to do so they must find solutions that help them to compete. In our business sector, value must be generated in the future by solving real problems through scientific knowledge funded by the taxes paid by all.
Dr Santiago Royo , director of CD6 UPC ,
member of the Technological Center of the UPC,
written in association with 19 UPC Center Directors.