Enhancing collaboration between research and industry: Lessons from UK-India collaboration

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director, RCUK India

Over the last five years, RCUK India has developed a major collaborative research partnership with India involving all seven of the UK’s Research Councils and covering some of the biggest challenges facing the world. Our joint research covers: energy security; food and agriculture; and climate change, as well as looks at the enormous social and cultural changes that are taking place in India. Our collaborative programme has gone from an almost zero base in 2008 to over £100 million now.

We want our collaborative programme to continue to grow. However, the name of the game these days is to answer the “so what?” question. What difference has this research made now? And, if not now, what difference will it make in the future? Indeed, all the Research Councils are committed to ensuring that publicly funded research delivers impact – by which I mean the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy.

One way of finding out about impact is to see to what extent that industry, business and other end users have engaged with the UK-India research programme. That is why we commissioned Sally Daultrey, an independent research analyst based in India, back in January this year to take stock and address the following questions:

  1. What have been the outputs from our co-funded research projects e.g. papers produced/in production, outreach or dissemination events, patents or licenses?
  2. What has been the extent of business and industry participation in our research portfolio?
  3. What are the opportunities for enhanced collaboration with business and industry?

Believe it or not, Sally’s report makes a very interesting read. She looked at how and why relationships between academia, industry and other partners come about; what makes them tick (the magic word here is ‘trust’); and what makes them sustainable. She also developed a typology of different kinds of partners -some are in it for the long term – ‘platform builders’; some who want to be involved in developing the programme right from the start – ‘co-developers; and some who want to dip in and out of programmes depending on their short term needs – ‘opportunistic’ partners. Each of these has a valid role to play in the overall innovation ecosystem.

Finally, Sally’s report presents a bottom-up, hands on experiential picture of international collaboration between researchers and industry partners and comes up with a number of practical steps that can be taken to make things better. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that knowledge generated from our programmes has maximum impact. However, Sally’s report should help us in defining the way forward to maximise the impact of the joint UK-India public investment in research.

Read the Times Higher article on the report.