LibLink: Tim Farron – We need to capitalise on our scientific excellence

University of the West of England, laboratory, science. Some rights reserved by JiscTim Farron has been writing for the Adam Smith Institute – there’s a sentence we didn’t expect ever to write – about turning the UK’s universities into entrepreneurial hubs. The Lib Dem party president is familiar with the sector, having worked in higher education at Lancaster University before entering Parliament. Here’s an excerpt:

Britain has a historically poor record of turning our scientists into entrepreneurs. Too often we have favoured the image of the mad professor or boffin, absent-mindedly beavering away in their lab, oblivious to the wider world around them. We must root out this gross caricature and start talking about the scientists of the future, like Dr Judith Spitz, who as well as not being male and grey haired, jumped at the opportunity to take her skills in speech and language therapy into the corporate world to become Chief Information Officer of Verizon.

Yet the basic training academics receive during their formative years is wholly structured for the needs of academia and not the real world of business. The skill set taught to a graduate scientist does not match those needed to be a successful entrepreneur. …

Commercialising the UK’s research output is a potential open goal for the country’s entrepreneurs and scientists. If the UK is to move beyond the occasional bright spot of success, it will require both academics and entrepreneurs being willing to shift from their comfort zones and learn about each other’s worlds. There are clear examples from around the globe to guide us and the potential gains are enormous. We just need to be bold enough to seek them.

You can read Tim’s piece in full over at the ASI’s The Entrepreneurs Network here.

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  • This displays a terrifying ignorance of the function of university research and the business model of spin off companies.

    1) Universities mostly participate in basic scientific research which, although essential, is driven by curiosity rather than commercial concerns.
    2) Partnerships with commercial companies are common, often fruitful, and already an established part of a Universities function.
    3) The business model for spin off companies is to rapidly develop a patent into viable technology and flog the IP to the highest bidding multinational who then either make it profitable or ditch it.
    4) Most people in academic research don’t want to be business people, they want to do their research without being hampered by arguments of commercial viability.
    5) The coalition have cut scientific spending in real terms, including funding available for patent lawyers, business development not to mention academic pay.

  • “Yet the basic training academics receive during their formative years is wholly structured for the needs of academia and not the real world of business.”

    One might as well complain that the training business people receive is structured for the needs of business rather than academe! Or that musicians are trained in music rather than brain surgery, or that sports people are trained in sport rather than flower arranging …

    Is it a coincidence that Farron has come out with this stuff about the world of business being the “real world”, in contrast to academe, only a few days after Vince Cable characterised teachers as knowing nothing about “the world of work”?

  • Ian Sanderson, I found your comment interesting. I also found it weirdly reminiscent of a speech given at my school in 1968. I was 16 and remember it very clearly. The invited speaker was someone from IBM. His vision of the future was that all the well paid jobs would be in science, engineering and computers. His advice was that if the boys at my state Grammar School wanted to “get on” and also help the country they should become engineers or scientists, because the only people in the future to be in better jobs than scientists and engineers would be government ministers.

    I followed the logic of his advice and went ahead with my interest in politics not science or engineering. I never became a government minister. I became a civil servant — which paid the bills, enabled me to do something to help the country and some politics on the side. It also turned out to be a better choice than an entry level job with IBM which started its decline not too long after and eventually sacked thousands of its employees in UK and worldwide.

    By way of a postscript my daughter is now at university studying for a BSc. She is of the generation that marched through London against Clegg and his broken promise on tuition fees, so she sure as hell isn’t interested in Liberal Democrat politics any more.

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