In 2015, the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, led a government review of how businesses of all sizes could be encouraged to connect with UK universities through strategic research partnerships. The Academy is now continuing on this mission.
Collaboration between universities and businesses offers innumerable benefits to everyone involved, from individual researchers, to companies’ productivity, and ultimately the competitiveness of the UK as a whole. Through our schemes industry partners have access to the UK’s foremost engineering expertise.
Over the last 30 years the Academy has worked collaboratively with industry partners to fund 129 exceptional academic engineers to pursue research that directly benefits industry, through the Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowships programme. We currently have 50 active Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellows collaborating with 43 industry partners based at 23 universities, covering the full range of engineering disciplines.
Our schemes have impact. In 2016/17, for every £1 the Academy contributed to Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellows, they received more than £18 in funding from others. During the same period they also published 316 papers in journals. Looking beyond these numbers, our awardees tell us that our schemes benefit both their professional and research careers.
“My RAEng Chair has led to the establishment of many new research relationships and activities with people and in areas of the company that I had previously not known. These connections and other experiences in the nuclear sector have led to my membership of the MOD’s Reactor Programmes Group.” Professor Fionn Dunne, Rolls-Royce/Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair
Similarly, since 2014 the Royal Academy’s Industrial Fellowships Scheme, which is aimed at early to mid-career academic engineers, has enabled 38 researchers to undertake collaborative research projects in industrial environments. Being embedded in industry gives them an opportunity to work on challenges that may have a more immediate impact. One such awardee was Dr Gillian Ragsdell, Reader in Knowledge Management at Loughborough University. Between 2015-16 Dr Ragsdell worked with the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) to embed a more rigorous approach to knowledge management within the organisation. Speaking of this, she said: “The fellowship has accelerated both my personal and professional development – it has invigorated my teaching and my research. I wanted to refresh my understanding of engineering management and be in a better position to support both qualified engineers and business students to become leaders.”
The Academy’s programmes are continually evolving to meet current needs; this year we launched a series of Regional Engagement Awards, enabling six Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellows to engage with SMEs and other organisations. As a result, a broader spectrum of businesses are now able to gain access to the exceptional engineering expertise and networks of our awardees.
The Academy will continue to be at the forefront of promoting these collaborations and leading the drive towards excellence in engineering.
This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.