Universities must focus on “distinctive, innovative approaches” to technology transfer

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Posted on 02 September 2016

Trevor McMillan Vice Chancellor Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University, has led a review of technology transfer in UK universities, looking at extensive evidence on UK and overseas practice and performance.

The McMillan Group were tasked with reviewing good practice in technology transfer, defined as the ‘process of spinning out new companies based on university intellectual property (IP) and licensing IP to existing companies’.

The report found that, overall, the UK university system is operating at a ‘world class standard in technology transfer’, but that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would not work.

Recognising that ‘senior leadership is essential’ to enable good technology transfer, the report recommends that greater attention is given to the leadership and governance of technology transfer.

The report also suggests that, although valuable, spin-out companies should not be the only measure of success of technology transfer, and that universities should continue with other forms of knowledge exchange.

Trevor McMillan commented,

“Our review has highlighted some of the strengths in the UK system but also identified areas for improvement. It is clear that university leadership matters in technology transfer, both in setting the approach and tone within universities but also in the national push for development. Different leaders define different missions for their universities, reflecting different institutional capabilities. This will make simple comparisons between universities that are based on single outputs (for example, number of spin-out companies formed) difficult, meaningless and negatively misleading. University Vice-Chancellors in the UK are fully committed to delivering on the Government’s economic priorities, but we will each contribute differently.”

The report concludes that universities should focus on pursuing ‘distinctive, innovative approaches’ and developing strategies that fit with their characteristics and circumstances, taking into account the particular ecosystems beyond their university.

To continue to excel, UK universities should be aspirational in setting new standards, and be ‘less pre-occupied by comparisons with others’.

David Sweeney, HEFCE Director (Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange), commented:

“The McMillan group review has provided an important contribution to the HEFCE programme on the KE framework. It shows that KE practice is highly technical and complex, and the KE framework needs to capture this. HEFCE seeks to support institutions, their leaders, academics and professional staff in making their appropriate economic and societal contributions, through the KE framework and through policies and funding such as Higher Education Innovation Funding and the Research Excellence Framework.”

Read the full report on the HEFCE website