Dangers arise when governments bypass the scientific community and bind research too closely to industry needs warns Education International’s senior consultant on higher education, David Robinson.
New Zealand’s government through its Tertiary Education Strategy, as well as the Treasury and the Ministry of Education are all advocating increased emphasis on closer links between business and research.
Dr Robinson says the Canadian experience shows that good research does not emerge from political diktats.
“Compared with the US, more than twice the percentage of Canada’s university research is funded by industry. This has accelerated since 2002, when the Government and the country’s university presidents signed an unprecedented ‘innovation agreement’, whereby public funding for academic research would be doubled, with universities in return agreeing to triple the commercialisation of their research.”
“The result has been a significant increase in funding, but at a price. There has been a drastic reorientation of large swaths of scientific research. The obsession with commercialisation has narrowed the agenda and undermined the integrity and independence of the academy. And it ignores a vital truth: that the world’s most important scientific discoveries typically have come from basic research.”
Mr Robinson says commercialisation has often distorted research priorities in ways that do not serve the public interest.
“Medical researchers have warned that the focus on market outcomes has encouraged a misguided emphasis on research that produces minor modifications to existing care, rather than fundamental explorations of illness.”
Mr Robinson will be visiting New Zealand as a guest of TEU during 27 Feb-2 March, where he will give presentations in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington on the Vandals at the Gate – the global state of higher education.