The Dowling Review of Business-University Research Collaborations


By Anne Kiem

As you will be aware, in July Professor Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, finalised her report on business-university research collaborations. The wide ranging report made no fewer than 32 recommendations; unsurprisingly key among them was the “excessive complexity” of the support system. Business schools have often been where universities and businesses collaborate most, so this review gives an indicator of what might be to come.

The report addressed the sometimes negative attitude in academia towards people who have sat on both sides of the fence, that is, academia and business. I suspect this is less of an issue within business schools, but it still exists. “Universities need to ensure that recruitment and promotion criteria for relevant disciplines reward rather than penalise academics who have achieved excellence in translational and collaborative activities, and that these messages are communicated effectively.” “For academics in relevant disciplines, spending time in industry should be seen as a mark of esteem that enriches their career, analogous to gaining international experience.”

Funding bodies are encouraged to do more in terms of expecting and rewarding collaboration between business and universities and should be doing more to promote successful activities. The impact case studies on the Chartered ABS website attempt to do just that. The REF was referred to as encouraging this, but more could be done and there was a suggestion that ‘impact’ should have a higher priority in the next version of the REF.

There was also a call for more effective brokerage, especially for SMEs, and that this role should fall primarily to NCUB. There was praise for the Catapults system and KTPs with a call for more funding to be made available for both, plus a few newer schemes. However, we know that with BIS having to make significant cuts to its budget, funding for these activities is set to decrease substantially. This is where the impact of this review could be severely hampered. There are some fairly clear calls to action, but with funding drying up will anything actually happen?

Some of the recommendations seem to fit very neatly in to the government agenda and may not even cost anything, if they take note and act on them. Recommendation 24 states “When developing industrial strategy and other long-term sectoral strategies, government and business should consult universities as key partners.”

If you haven’t read the report it is worth at least looking at the Executive Summary and the Recommendations. There are some very sensible ideas, but those requiring funding could be shelved.

The full report can be found here.

Anne Kiem
Chief Executive, Chartered Association of Business Schools