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UNSW redefining the relationship between universities and industry

1 July 2019

Since the 1990s, the creation of new knowledge through university-based academic research has been considered by government as an industry like any other. Often called the process of ‘academic capitalism’, universities have become more entrepreneurial as they are forced to focus on knowledge less as a public good than as a marketable commodity in profit-oriented activities.

Like financial assets, education yields an income and myriad other benefits. According to a recent London Economics study, from an investment of $6.7 billion in public funds in 2016, Australia’s ‘group of eight’ leading universities returned over $66 billion to the nation in the four areas of research, teaching and learning, educational exports and direct university expenditure. That is a 10-fold return on government investment.

L to R: Donavan Marney, Centre Manager for ARC Training Centre – Chemical Industries; Prof Martina Stenzel, NSW -ARC Centre Director; Dr Anastasios Polyzos, VIC ARC Centre Director; Kerryn Caulfield and Prof. Scott Kable, UNSW – School of Chemistry

To that end, there are compelling reasons for governments to encourage and enable university–industry collaboration on research projects they perceive will assist companies become more competitive. However, the impasse has always been that collaborative projects require financial co-contribution from participating companies, yet the universities, which are often funded by grants, expect to retain the intellectual property (IP).

Against this backdrop, the recently launched Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for the Chemical Industries is redefining the relationship between universities and industry by enabling industry to own the IP on collaborative research.

The Centre fosters transformative and innovative research in Australia’s chemical and advanced manufacturing sectors through an industry-led research training program developed through partnerships between industry and universities. It brings together three leading universities (The University of Melbourne, The University of New South Wales and Swinburne University of Technology), chemical industry companies and Chemistry Australia in a unique collaboration that aims to supply the chemical industry’s need for highly skilled STEM graduates with relevant industry skills and experience.

During the 2-year course, postgraduate candidates run a significant research project with a chemical company, usually at their site and working with their staff, giving a minimum of 12-months’ experience as an industrial R&D chemist. These research projects can be supported by an academic but led and directed by participating companies that have more control of the developed IP as well as full access to university laboratory, analytical and characterisation infrastructure.This program is an opportunity for companies with a costly and time consuming industrial/ production challenge to resolve; or a strategic development project that requires time to explore before lift-off.

This article first appeared in:

Connection Magazine

Issue 50: July, 2019

Author: Kerryn Caulfield

For this and more stories, please download the latest copy of our Connection magazine.

Issue 50: July, 2019