Academia bottom of the class for attracting investment from big business

IRISH academics are bottom of the class when it comes to attracting investment from big business, a worldwide study of universities shows.

A new index out today has found that our top universities attract some of the smallest amounts of cash from big business, compared with their global counterparts.

British universities fare little better, while Asian academics lead the field in attracting major investment.

The World Academic Summit Innovation Index has calculated that global companies are investing the equivalent of just $13,300 (e9,968) in each British academic to carry out work in innovation and research on their behalf, putting the UK fourth from bottom (26th) in this new list of the world’s top 30 countries.

In Ireland, the picture is worse still, with academics here attracting tens of thousands less from industry ($8,300 each) than countries further up the index, making us bottom of the class in 30th place.

Compiled by the Times Higher Education division of the London newspaper ahead of its inaugural World Academic Summit in October, the index uses Purchasing Power Parity to evaluate the research income that hundreds of world-class institutions across the globe are receiving from industry.

The results give a global snapshot of how successfully the world’s top universities compete for research funding from industry, and show the Republic of Korea ranked first in the world, with global companies investing the equivalent of nearly $100,000 in each Korean scholar.

Singapore is in second place, bringing in an average of $84,500 per academic, with The Netherlands third ($72,800) and South Africa fourth ($64,400).

But the other surprise result is that, like Ireland and Britain, the traditional educational powerhouse, the US, lies in mid-table in 14th position, with industry contributing nearly four times less to its academic researchers ($25,800 per person) than those of Korea.

This apparent lack of appetite for Western investment by big business is in contrast to the fact that some of the world’s most significant developments historically come from Irish, British and American institutions.

Without research carried out by George Boole at Queen’s University Cork, now UCC, modern computing as we know it would be impossible. Boolean logic lies behind the ability of computers to do myriad calculations simultaneously.

Likewise, the work at Imperial College London of Denis Gabor, whose development of holograms revolutionised means of authenticating products. His method is used today to validate bank notes, credit cards and passports across the globe.

Equally, the world has Professors Donald Bitzer and Gene Slottow at the University of Illinois to thank for the invention of the plasma screen, and therefore flat screen television.

However, in recent years, the world’s increasing enthusiasm for technological advancement and computer science has seen big business shift its attention eastward to Asia, a region known for its strong manufacturing sector and traditional academic focus on related subject areas.

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has successfully collaborated with Samsung to develop the world’s first humanoid robot which receives its intelligence from a wireless computer. The robot, named Mahru-Z, is part of Korea’s ‘a robot in every home by 2020’ promise, and is capable of turning on washing machines, loading the dishwasher or chopping up a salad for its owner.

As recently as last month, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) showed off their latest ‘invisibility cloak’ by making a cat and a goldfish vanish. The device, capable of making anything within its confines disappear from direct sight, could have serious real-world applications in the fields of security or entertainment.

While the West dominates in terms of quantity, with 15 European countries present alongside the US and Canada, Asia sees five of its nine featured countries in the top 10: Korea in first, Singapore second, Taiwan in sixth, China seventh and India 10th.

The findings also offer good news for countries whose universities do not traditionally feature highly in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

At number 10, India is ranked fifth most commercially valuable country in Asia, with big business pouring in an average $36,900 per researcher.

Yet the three Indian institutions featured in Times Higher Education’s annual World University Rankings all fall below 226th position.

Similarly, Russia — featured here just outside the top 10 at number 11 — has only two institutions in the THE World University Rankings and both fall outside of the top 200.

But this new study assesses that big business pays its academics $36,400 each in exchange for their contribution to worldwide product innovation and development. In contrast, among Irish universities, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin both feature in the top 200 but attract far less investment.

The study has been conducted to highlight one of the key themes at the first ever Times Higher Education World Academic Summit; the commercialisation of academic research and ideas, and the fundamental role that universities play in fuelling the future knowledge economy.

The three-day event will take place on Oct 2-4 in one of the world’s most dynamic institutions, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore; a country which has been evidenced by this new report to be one of the world’s leading hubs of global research and innovation.

Commenting on the findings, a spokesperson for the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit said: “Working with business and industry to move their discoveries and ideas from the ivory towers into the real world — and to make a real social and economic impact — has become one of the most important functions of a modern university.

“For some, an ability to attract funding from big business could even be a case of sink or swim in this age of austerity.

“This important, contemporary topic — universities as drivers of the knowledge economy — will be one of the many areas discussed at the first ever Times Higher Education World Academic Summit this October and is why this new index, drawn from the same trusted data used for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, is a really pertinent exercise.

“That South Korea and Singapore are the top two countries listed in this new table, with other Asian nations like Taiwan, China and India all making the top 10, will be a shocking wake-up call for the West.

“It seems that the balance of power is destined to tip further eastwards.”

* For more on the summit see www.theworldacademicsummit.com


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