| 5 minute read

A modern view on research valorisation and how to support academics

Madeline Arkins

During our recent “How To” session, UIIN Associate Partner Todd Davey presented hands-on recommendations on how to support and enable academics in their research valorisation efforts. After gathering the main insights from the event, we are bringing you the step-by-step instructions to give you a holistic and modern view on valorisation in the context of external engagement of universities today.

Broadening the view

An integral part of encouraging and assisting academics in the process of valorisation is, firstly, the transformation of one’s understanding of ‘valorisation.’ The traditional view adopted by universities has to date tended to focus on unidirectional, transactional commercialisation from university to the market.

Taking a broader view of how universities create impact is undoubtedly more complex and important in the context of understand of academics’ contribution to the impact creation, which does not lend itself to the rather traditional measurement of just transactional activities. Valorisation goes beyond commercialisation and includes a broader scope of engagement activities. It also requires strong leadership within the university to recognise and pursue these valorisation processes from the outset. Broadening one’s language around benefits of university-industry cooperation garners a much larger potential buy-in from interested academics, and therefore generates much more impact for the benefit of many more stakeholders.

Adapting the language

Supporting the broader, more modern understanding of valorisation requires an adaptation of your language to the goals of the partners around you, or having a “chameleon approach”:

  • If a Vice Rector wants to create ‘impact’, one could approach them by highlighting how engagement and valorisation creates better pathways to impact because it works together with external partners who are already primed to translate that knowledge.
  • If an academic speaks of solely being interested in publications, one could emphasise the evidence that collaboration with an external partner such as industry can increase both the quantity and quality of publications as it gives the academic access to state-of-the-art data that they can use for analysis, resulting in higher impact publications.
  • If graduate employability is the goal, one should note that valorisation and engagement help to vastly improve the relevance of the curriculum for students, through guest lectures, internships, master’s theses etc. These all improve the skills and knowledge of the student and therefore, their employability.

Finding common ground through language and aligning expectations can streamline the process for all parties

Understanding the stakeholders

The report Davey et al. (2018) gives unique insight into academics’ external engagement journey:

  1. The less years spent working at a HEI, the more likely will academics co-operate with industry.
  2. The longer an academic has worked in industry (greater than 6 months), the more they collaborate with it.
  3.  The longer an academic collaborates with industry, the more they collaborate.
  4. Academics who collaborate with industry tend to do so in multiple activities, e.g., through R&D consulting, or curriculum development.
  5. Cooperating academics overwhelmingly want to maintain or increase their cooperation.

From these major findings, we have collected the following corresponding actions for academics:

  • Identify and support early-stage researchers to collaborate.
  • Seek out academics who already have UBC experience and build around them.
  • Support academics to cooperate in multiple ways.
  • Look to those academics who already undertake UBC and engage them as champions.

Barriers, motivators and facilitators

The challenges in carrying out external engagement are well known, most notably the lack of incentives for academics as well as the difference in perceived time horizons between universities and industry. Davey et al. (2018) collected data from university management, academics, and business professionals on the topic of external engagement to capture the breadth of experiences from the major actors in the process. The most commonly cited barriers and motivators for each group are highlighted below:

  • University management primarily listed lack of fundings as a barrier and obtaining funding, and improving graduate employability as their main motivators.
  • Academics named limited resources of external partners; level of bureaucracy required to engage; and insufficient work time allocated for engagement as barriers. On the other hand, they had more research-focused motivators: to gain new insights for research, and to use their research in practice.
  • Business representatives named cultural-fit as a barrier, i.e., there was a lack of people with the appropriate business knowledge within universities; and gaining access to new technologies and improving their innovation capacity as their motivators.

Significantly, most alignment was found in what facilitates external engagement among the three stakeholders: Their answers each emphasised the importance of mutual trust and a shared goal among engagement partners. By understanding the motivators, barriers and facilitators of external engagement, one can approach valorisation in a systematic and more efficient way to ensure better results.

To sum up:

  1. Take a broader view of how universities can create impact through valorisation and how engagement can be productive.
  2. “Be a chameleon” and adapt your language to the goals of those involved in the process.
  3. Help to jump, reduce, or break barriers that may be preventing this valorisation process.
  4. Recognise that each stakeholder will have their own motivation for engaging. By managing and aligning expectations, you can help everyone reach their goals.
  5. Focus on relationship building over transactions: build relationships upon mutual trust, vision, goals and commitment, and the transactions will follow.

References:

  • Davey, T., Meerman, A., Galán-Muros, V., Orazbayeva, B., & Baaken, T. (2018). The state of university-business cooperation in Europe – Executive Summary, (DE). Belgium. European Commission, DG Education & Culture. ISBN 978-92-79-80973-6

Madeline Arkins (author) is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.

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