Do you know that academia and industry have been collaborating increasingly in the last decades (1)?
Types of collaborations range from industrial internships and job positions for researchers, patenting, to the development of products by research institutions and companies together.
Academia and industry working together (Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash)
As globalism and commercialism rise, academia (namely universities and research institutions) face an increasing amount of local and international competition against other institutions, to prove their own contribution to the socio-economy (2).
This validation has become so critical to the identity of institutions, as attaining it grew into the "third mission" of many universities, alongside the “first and second missions” (education and research) (2, 3, 4).
Under such circumstances, both the academic and industry feel now, more than ever, a mutual attraction toward each other. Indeed, such attraction is well-warranted, as collaborations can be beneficial for not only both parties, but also for the society they reside in.
Academia, Industry, Society: A Three-Way Relationship
Societal development and scientific progress have been intertwined since the beginning of time. When scientific knowledge is either underdeveloped (e.g. the Stone Age) or unappreciated (e.g. the Medieval Age), the general public suffer, ranging from inconveniences in daily lives to fatal crises (e.g. famines due to the shortage of food; the Great Plague).
Scientific advancement elevates the quality of life, which evolves and complexes both society and societal issues. This feeds into scientific challenges for the scientists (e.g. climate change and the Industrial Revolution; the inventions of new medicines and the drug addiction epidemic).
Society and academia are interdependent- scientists are devoted to better society by continuous education and research, and the dynamic state of society entertain scientists with new problems to tackle.
However, a gap exists between academia and society.
Academia focuses on understanding the fundamentals of issues; meanwhile, the public is anxiously waiting for a solution rather than the cause. Furthermore, the majority of the general public seems to have a limited understanding and contact with scientists, as scientists have a reputation of retreating to their laboratories.
It simply takes different skills and mindsets to efficiently target the latest problems and design socio-economical-friendly solutions. These qualities happen to be staples of the commercial industry.
Academic-Industrial Collaborations- What Exactly are the Benefits?
Successful collaboration can feed into the economy (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)
Money makes the world goes round, this old saying is especially true in the context of innovations.
For academia, the most obvious motivation to enter a project with an industrial partner is private funding. Recently, public funding for science and innovation (e.g. funding by The National Institute of Health in the US) has been decreasing (1,5).
Financial support from the private sector can help push forward the often expensive science and technology development (e.g. medicines) (6). On the other hand, it is profitable for companies to sell products of scientific values that are co-invented by credible researchers. If the invention is lucky enough to be successful on the market, the revenue also fed back to the socio-economy.
Profit does not simply grow on trees; for a project to be fruitful, sufficient resources are elemental. By collaborating, the partners get to share assets, such as human resources.
The academia is filled with experts at specific fields. These talented minds are packed with original ideas which might be the spark for the next commercial success (1, 6, 7). Students and researchers are given entrepreneurial career opportunities, opening doors to the career paths that some of them have been searching for (1,6-9).
Besides human resource, the industrial partners can get their hands on research technology and infrastructures, while academia is presented with industrial equipment (9). For the society as a whole, not only is the employment rate increased but having high-skilled workforces giving back in service and finance, to is always a plus.
Going beyond funding and resources, working with outsiders in a non-academic environment provide a stimulating experience to researchers. Through collaborations, researchers can gain an awareness of industrial and societal needs6. They can also put theories and result in practice (6, 8).
Unique perspectives, ideas, and challenges can be discovered by both parties, all thanks to collaborations (1,6). The biggest winner is perhaps the general public; with academia and industry cooperating to push forth the frontier of science and technology, major concerns of society (e.g. health, environment, security) are improved (10), ultimately leading to a brighter future for everyone.
Needless to say, seeing the immense values academic-industrial collaborations hold, we here at CEITEC definitely will not be left behind. Several meaningful collaborations have already been or are currently being held.
In 2017, Jiří Očadlík, then-director of the company Thermo Fischer Scientific, has become the Deputy Director of Innovation Strategy of CEITEC Brno University of Technology (BUT). His past experiences are estimable for building up collaborations for CEITEC BUT and the industry (11).
On the other hand, Prof. Pavel Václavek, head of the CEITEC BUT Cybernetics for Material Science research group, has been elected the Chairman of Steering Committee of the Prague-based National Center for Industry 4.0, a project established to link academia with SMEs, manufacturers, and consumers (12). For Industry 4.0, Professor Pavel Václavek and his research team join four other prominent global projects about electro-mobility and automatic driving. Specific goals include developing an affordable high functioning electric car and designing reliable sensor systems for safe automobile usage.
Many partners, such as BMW, Technical University Munich, and Infineon Technologies are involved (13).
Also for Industry 4.0: along with three other research centers, CEITEC BUT has kick-started RICAIP, a research and innovation center on advanced industrial production. The idea is to allow the information flow between artificial intelligential manufacturing units. Therefore, not only is the quality of multi-site productions standardized, but production is optimized (14).
In 2012, the first microtomographic station in the Czech Republic, provided by GE Phoenix Company and named “v|tome|x”, has been installed at CEITEC BUT. Used for examining objects (e.g. automobile component and human injuries) non-invasively, this microtomographic station is shared to companies for contract research (15).
Somewhat related, the first workshop in the Czech Republic on applications of non-destructive tomography has recently been held by CEITEC BUT and Baker Hughes, a GE Company. The insights coming from the participants can definitely be useful for the highly emphasized automotive element of Czech industry (16).
One step out of the comfort-zone is one step forward in human progress (Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash)
Admittedly, academic-industrial collaboration is not without its difficulties and risks.
For instance, one usual hurdle is the differences in practices: academia emphasizes on the search of full understanding of an issue’s nature, while industry focuses on reaching the solution with limited cost.
However, if both academia and industry are willing to see from each other’s perspectives, there is nothing that cannot be overcome.
Granted, it can be quite a challenge to step out of one’s comfort-zone in hope for something new, but isn’t that exactly the point of innovation and science progress?
Written by Sophia Man
Edited by Somsuvro Basu and Markus Dettenhofer
Publication date: 01.07.2019