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Sharing information between academia and business

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Knowledge transfer has been a key part of the academic process in the UK for many years. And research recently carried out for the Higher Education Funding Council for England has shown how this investment is now paying dividends and that British researchers are now better at commercialising their work than those in the USA.

As money becomes tighter it is essential not to lose this skill. Dedicated networks that ensure we maintain the flow of information between industry and academia could be one way of achieving this.

Traditional networks have existed to solve specific problems set around a sector, a need or a region, acting more as a special interest group. In other words they have a set objective and tend to fizzle out once they have achieved the objective or morph into a different group with a new goal.

A network that exists to consistently disperse the latest best practice and research on a specific topic would not have such a limited life cycle. The regular flow of information makes it more sustainable.

The Measurement Network

I have been working with the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to develop such a system. The Measurement Network exists to function across regions, disciplines and sectors, to bring researchers, information managers, businesses and policy makers together to address issues collaboratively.

The link between academia and businesses of any size has to be well managed. As an independent third party NPL is in the ideal position to ensure this network is well run and has a real impact.

The Measurement Network brings together 19 long-standing NPL knowledge-transfer clubs and networks that are supported through the National Measurement System.  This makes it easier for a wide range of stakeholders to engage with the Laboratory and for new groups to develop as new science and technologies evolve. The network is for anyone with an interest in measurement and aims to facilitate the sharing of measurement knowledge and information between NPL’s scientists and network members, as well as providing a forum for the sharing and exchange of information and advice between members and other experts. It does this primarily through a programme of seminars and conferences, as well as by involving members in working groups or other activities.

One example of the knowledge available is how Spartan Wetsuits, a UK company, tested a range of materials to find the warmest fabric to use in a wetsuit, keeping windsurfers warm and saving the manufacturers £100,000 in development costs. Similarly, measurement scientists at NPL have worked to accredit a new laser for the printing market to show it met international safety standards to help a UK business expand into international markets.

In the past measurement was seen as a discipline in its own right and metrology, the science of measurement, as something confined to labs. What we have noticed is how the importance of measurement is now pervading across a multitude of disciplines and industries.

People from many sectors

To reflect this, members of the Measurement Network include people from a range of business sectors, including energy, transport and manufacturing, healthcare professionals, instrument manufacturers, calibration laboratories and academic institutions.

Economists from the UK Government have shown that highly accurate measurement science can help businesses to do more than just meet regulations. According to their research, NPL’s work in cutting-edge measurement science contributes approximately £2 billion per annum to UK GDP as part of the UK’s National Measurement System.

The value of any network is that information flows freely in all directions. For that reason Measurement Network members will also have the opportunity to influence the research that NPL undertakes by setting the direction that the network should take. This will ensure that some of NPL’s work is driven by the needs of the community and seeks to address the measurement challenges facing industry.

We want to make sure that the effects of this work are felt as widely as possible across the businesses and campuses of the UK, and have worked with NPL to do just that. If measurement is important for your job or organisation, then becoming a Measurement Network member will provide you with access to information relevant to you and your work.

John Latham is pro-vice-chancellor for business development at Coventry University, UK and oversees all its industrial-academic link activities