I have been fortunate to be on both sides of the world and have been with more than 15 universities as an industrial advisory panel. Several years ago, I posted this question on my Facebook and received many comments.

Both Parties Need Each Other

We know the problem, but “How do we solve this? “. Both parties need each other – the industry requires new technology or innovation to make themselves relevant and competitive. The industry that doesn’t have an R&D arm has to depend on the Universities. 

On the other hand, the Universities also need to ensure their students are employable and relevant to the current needs. It’s the central role of the Universities.

Different Expectations

However, both have different expectations – as much as the industry wanted to tap the innovativeness and the knowledge of the Universities to produce commercial products, they didn’t realize that the Universities aren’t capable of developing a finished commercial product. 

I don’t think that’s the role of the University. Still, it’s also wrong for the University to believe that their research grant was only to produce journals or travel worldwide presenting at conferences.

The culture and “do or die” attitude in both University and Industry are different. That’s why we see the “pace” or time in both worlds are so different. While the industry is running outside and finding out that you have to drag your feet to get things done inside the University can get very frustrating to many collaborators. 

They didn’t realize that many other obstacles within the University don’t allow them to be as accessible as the “outside” people. Imagine being assigned to so many tasks at once – teaching, researching, marking exam papers, writing administrative reports/curriculum, mentoring, writing articles, attending committee meetings, and so much more. But unlike the industry, they have one main specific task assigned to them.

Ego and Silos

“Ego” is one point raised by many, and sometimes we didn’t realize until someone pointed the issue. It’s an honest view and hard to swallow, but it seems true. We didn’t know that when many lecturers came back with their Ph.D. on specific domain knowledge, they continued the same work in their University. Thus, created many silos of research work and sometimes overlapped with each other and unfortunately had no intention to work in a team. Most probably, everyone is trying to achieve their own KPI, but they failed as a team.

Questioning the Output

Any R&D activities require funding. Due to the bad reputation in commercializing their R&D outputs, the Government has been questioning the rationale of giving a significant grant. Where are the pieces of equipment? And when they can’t get the total amount of funding required, the first thing in mind is to reduce the cost by not continuing the maintenance or renewing the software license. In the end, much of the expensive equipment becomes outdated.

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How-To Make It Work?

If the University wants to become an Industry-friendly institution that can attract external parties and become relevant in the future, they need to do the following things:

  1. FundingAn R&D grant is critical for any activities. They must understand that Universities are not capable of producing commercial products. However, they are also not a “journal producer.” The R&D output must be feasible enough to become an excellent prototype to hand over to the Industry to take over the commercialisation role. We expect the University to finish up to TRL (Technology Readiness Level) 4 (Lab scale development and integration). TRL 5 and beyond should be led by the Industry as they move the Lab trial to actual pilot or customer trial. 
  2. Continuity – Working in a team is far better than working in a silo. Many good projects go down the drain because there is no continuity. Every year, the lecturer needs to create new projects, and sometimes the titles are “re-cycle” again with the same objectives. Nothing can be completed if this thing continues. Suggestion – think of the theme, the big picture, break into modules, assign to different students/lecturers, integrate them, and voila! You will have a complete prototype by the end of the day. One of the main problems is “student come and student go,” and often, it will cause a void or gap in their work. A better way is to get Research Officer to track, compile and manage the overall project constantly.
  3. Develop a Channel for Industry Inputs – Develop a proper channel such as an online portal to submit their industry problems. It will become a constant feed to the “ideas box.”
  4. Know Your Industry Early – Build a good relationship with the industry partner. Understand their pain points and get their buy-in at the early stage of the project. It will be complicated if the University wants to “shove” the solution later at the end of the project without their early buy-in. The Industry knows their customer better and can advise what’s the best business model when the product is ready for commercialization.
  5. Get To Know The Industry Product Roadmap – Once you have the Industry’s trust, it’s easier for you to sign NDA and get into their product roadmap. It’s more feasible to deliver mid-term and long-term deliverables if the University wants the postgraduates involved (3-5 years project).
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