Qualified researchers are finding it hard to secure a permanent university job, with huge benefits for both higher education and business

The nature of academic careers is changing. It is getting hard for newly-qualified academics to secure a full time or permanent job at a university. Many of those who do are becoming disillusioned with the way their institutions operate – overly bureaucratic administration, increasing teaching commitments and pressure to produce research in line with institutional strategy.

The result is that more and more researchers are turning their back on an academic career and seeking opportunities outside of universities. So what does this mean for the relationship between universities and business?

An increase in the number of trained researchers working across all sectors of the economy could be highly attractive for industry. Perhaps the gap between academic research and industry innovation can be bridged more rapidly without any of the red tape and lengthy partnering negotiations. Academic researchers working as consultants outside of an institution can provide their services at an attractive price. Businesses could employ academic researchers directly and any intellectual property developed could become the sole asset of the business, rather being shared with a university. 

In short, this could be the beginning of an era of unrivalled collaboration as the barriers between academia and the outside world break down. Yet on the other hand there are many potential dangers in this brave new world in which institutional ties are severed.

Many businesses rely on access to universities with the researchers and specialist equipment that would be too costly or difficult for them to invest in themselves. Universities act as hubs that can help businesses connect with each other, and with other academic institutions, public sector organisations or local communities.

So will the changing nature of academic careers benefit industry? I think it will –  and it will also benefit universities. The very nature of work, as we understand it, is changing. In future, more people will have a diverse, portfolio-style career path. In academia this could result in highly trained academics working part-time within industry, and part-time at a university. This way business gets direct access to skilled academics, but can also retain links with universities. Universities retain the services of researchers and teachers who are closer to industry and better able to link theory and practice.

The important thing is not where academically-trained individuals work, but what they contribute to the betterment of society at large though the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.

Alex Hope is lecturer in sustainable development and project management at the University of Northumbria