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Faraday or Newton to bridge the innovation gap

作者:安鳆砣    发布时间:2019-03-02 02:01:06    

By WILLIAM BOWN Both the government and the Labour Party last week seized upon plans to set up a network of new ‘intermediate institutes’ to transfer technology from universities to industry. The proposals were made in a report by the Prince of Wales Working Group on Innovation. The day after its publication the government announced plans for a pilot scheme and Labour promised a national network if it wins the election. This week, Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, expanded on his plans, saying that he expected the pilot scheme to grow into a larger network. ‘The pilot scheme is not a substitute for a long-term programme,’ said Lilley. ‘We are going to learn from this experience.’ The new centres are modelled on Germany’s Fraunhofer Institutes. Their job will be to transfer technology from academia to industry in key disciplines such as microelectronics. They will be funded partly by government and partly from commercial contract research. Unlike existing contract research organisations in Britain, the new centres will concentrate on transferring technology by transferring people. The centres will take on graduate engineers, train them to PhD level in commercial surroundings and allow them to move on into industry. ‘Nine times out of ten it is people transfer that transfers technology,’ said Lilley. ‘These students will go into industry with that much greater experience.’ The Department of Trade and Industry has allocated £2 million for the first year of a pilot scheme. Five centres, probably run jointly by universities and existing contract research organisations, will each take on 20 students in October. The Prince’s working group calls the new bodies ‘Faraday Centres’, while Labour plumped for ‘Newton Institutes’. The DTI is leaving a diplomatic pause before announcing its preferred title. Apart from names, however, there are important differences in the way the parties believe the centres should be organised and funded. The government follows the working group’s recommendations for building a network out of existing institutions. Money would come from private sources, as in Germany, said Lilley. He added: ‘The Fraunhofer institutes are not massive public expenditure programmes. They work on contract income.’ Labour, by contrast, is edging towards building new institutes. Funding would come partly from unspent money already in the DTI’s budget. Bob Whelan, the chief executive of the Centre for Exploitation of Science and Technology, who first proposed the new centres last year, said he was extremely pleased that his concept ‘had been so widely acclaimed’. But he warned against trying to transplant the German model. ‘We cannot just construct a Fraunhofer system in the UK. We have intermediate institutions and we have to build on the best of those,’ he said. Labour’s science spokesman, Jeremy Bray,

 

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