By Professor Ric Parker, CBE FREng
Director of Research & Technology
David Eyton has already provided an excellent summary of the Dowling review for NCUB. Like David, I was part of the review panel and I had the pleasure to be present in the House of Commons on 2 July when the new Science and Universities Minister, Jo Johnson launched the report with its author, Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Last week (15 July) the Minister and I appeared before the newly-reformed House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, ably chaired by Nicola Blackwood.
There, several questions focused on the new report and the Minister promised to “respond fully to the Dowling review later in the year”, but he endorsed the report’s recommendation on simplification of the innovation support system. He also said that the Government’s “Productivity Plan” took note of this central recommendation and that the Spending Review would look at the way Innovate UK operated with a view to making schemes more accessible to smaller companies. In Dame Anne’s words, if we cannot simplify it, then we must at the very least “hide the wiring”.
In addition to recommendations on simplification, the report also suggests better sign-posting and “brokerage” for smaller companies to help them navigate the complex world of university research, in order to find both the research programmes and the subject-matter experts that can answer their questions and support their businesses. On this topic David Docherty himself and NCUB gave valuable evidence to the Dowling panel. I had a sneak preview recently of the NCUB “brokerage” web-site, which is currently under development. This will go a long way to providing exactly what the Dowling report was seeking.
A further set of recommendations in the report surrounded, technology transfer, intellectual property and Technology Transfer Offices in Universities. The last of these came under some criticism in the report: “Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge exchange over short-term income generation”. It was clear that the short-term pursuit of relatively trivial amounts of IP license income often gets in the way of ensuring the full potential of research findings is available to and exploited by British companies. Further simplification and expedition of negotiation with such offices was also called for, with simple template agreements for SMEs and others to draw upon.
I would commend the report to all of you who have not yet read it. It is good to see the S&T Select Committee and the new Minster embracing it. We must all now work together to turn the recommendations of the report into concrete and funded actions in the forthcoming Government Spending Review.