According to Hassell senior research Michaela Sheahan, research funding pressures and relentless calls for innovation have thrust industry engagement, a long-standing but largely back-seat activity at universities, into the spotlight.

For academics, it’s not ‘publish or perish’ anymore – its ‘engagement or extinction’. And for businesses, access to expertise and facilities are crucial to getting one step ahead of the competition.

It’s no secret that forming productive relationships is challenging notes Sheahan. How do effective engagements come about, and what’s stopping more from happening? The barriers are, in simple and totally unsurprising terms, time and money. Throw in security concerns and a lack of flexible space, and talented people on both sides of the equation are left wondering how they can bring all their good (and lucrative) ideas to life.

The research by Sheahan titled: ‘Engagement or extinction: breaking down barriers between industry and universities through good design’? involved some 100 universities and industry partners to look at how talented people on both sides of the equation can get together to bring all their good (and lucrative) ideas to life.

She asked the question — can design help overcome barriers to industry engagement? And the answer was yes. So while design is not a driver of collaboration, it is an enabler. Buildings, spaces and places that prioritise proximity of partners, visibility of activities and flexibility to change are vital to more, and better, collaborative partnerships on campus.

Her results highlighted that despite all the economic, time and space pressures on campus, basic research and long-term relationships between industry and academia are critical to solving big problems.

And she noted, they will continue to need large scale laboratories, workshops and advanced manufacturing facilities to do so.

The most dramatic change in the research landscape is the focus on product development and commercialisation, says the report, adding that the early phases of innovation are where strong connections to university expertise and equipment can make the most difference.

Image: Hassell