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ACADEMIA HOLDS ON TO ITS RE­SEARCH STARS BY SHAR­ING THEM WITH IN­DUS­TRY

THE (Times Higher Education) - - WORLD ACADEMIC SUMMIT: NEWS - Paul Basken

In­dus­try com­pe­ti­tion for prime teach­ing tal­ent has be­come a prob­lem for uni­ver­si­ties in fields where the high salaries that at­tract stu­dents can make it hard to keep the ex­perts needed to train them.

In­creas­ingly, how­ever, in­sti­tu­tions are reach­ing for cre­ative so­lu­tions to hir­ing chal­lenges that they hope will ben­e­fit com­pa­nies, their lo­cal economies and their re­searchers.

In­no­va­tors in­clude the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto, which only five years ago reg­u­larly watched some of its lead­ing grad­u­ates cre­ate com­pa­nies and then pack up and head for places such as San Jose and Bos­ton to de­velop them. Typ­i­cally, that meant tak­ing many other ta­lented uni­ver­sity grad­u­ates with them, Toronto’s provost, Cheryl Regehr (pic­tured right), told the World Aca­demic Sum­mit.

By mak­ing con­di­tions more invit­ing for its bright­est in­ven­tors, how­ever, Toronto has been re­vers­ing that ex­o­dus, Pro­fes­sor Regehr said. Prom­i­nent suc­cesses in­volve Google and its es­tab­lish­ment of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence re­search op­er­a­tions in Toronto through the urg­ing of Ge­of­frey Hinton, an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of com­puter science who seeks to model the hu­man brain, and Raquel Ur­ta­sun, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­puter science known for de­vel­op­ing self-driv­ing cars.

Cre­at­ing that at­trac­tive­ness meant as­sem­bling a menu of op­tions for bol­ster­ing ties be­tween a re­search uni­ver­sity and em­ploy­ers, Pro­fes­sor Regehr said. They in­clude al­low­ing fac­ulty to serve in out­side con­sul­tant roles, cre­at­ing shared em­ploy­ment struc­tures and grant­ing leaves of ab­sence, she said.

“There are chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with these kinds of em­ploy­ments,” Pro­fes­sor Regehr told the con­fer­ence. “But we are in­cred­i­bly highly mo­ti­vated to work though those chal­lenges.”

Such so­lu­tions can ex­tend be­yond the pri­vate sec­tor. Pro­fes­sor Regehr de­scribed an arrangement for at­tract­ing free teach­ing ser­vices from sci­en­tists work­ing for Canada’s Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry. Be­cause such sci­en­tists of­ten work in the north­ern part of the coun­try, they wel­come op­por­tu­ni­ties to spend time in warmer and less re­mote ar­eas. The re­sult of that re­al­i­sa­tion, she said, is a deal in which uni­ver­si­ties give the sci­en­tists free work space on cam­pus, and in re­turn get some of their classes taught for free.

“We pro­vide space, they pro­vide teach­ing, and their re­search con­trib-

utes to our over­all re­search pro­duc­tiv­ity,” Pro­fes­sor Regehr said. “So it’s a real win‑win.”

In other cases, univer‑ sities can get more bene‑ fit from in­dus­try sim­ply by be­ing less com­pet­i­tive about it. Some in­stitu‑ tions make sure to nego‑ tiate pay­ments for in­ven­tions that could be tied to re­search con‑ ducted on their cam‑ puses. The UK has long re­quired it. But that’s prov­ing coun­ter­prod­uct‑ ive, and should be avoided as much as pos‑ sible, said Dame Wendy Hall, pro­fes­sor of com‑ puter science at the Uni‑ ver­sity of Southamp­ton.

Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity may be a clas­sic case of a fail­ure to cap­ture prof­its from a spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess, hav­ing been the in­cu­ba­tor for Google, whose par­ent com­pany is now worth more than $700 bil­lion (£532 bil‑ lion). But for all the profit‑shar­ing that Stan­ford the­o­ret­i­cally failed to cap­ture, Dame Wendy said, the uni­ver­sity has reaped huge value from the Google‑re­lated spin‑ offs that have grown around it. Uni­ver­si­ties work­ing with in­dus­try cer­tainly need to guard against fi­nan­cial con­flicts of in­ter­est, and must en­sure that stu­dents re­tain the free­dom to pub­lish their find­ings, Pro­fes­sor Regehr said. But the great­est long‑term bene‑ fits of re­search suc­cess – and of build­ing in­dus­try re­la­tions – may be rather less di­rect yet far more valu­able than roy­alty pay­ments, ac­cord­ing to Dame Wendy. The Google ex­am­ple was “a les­son in how not to over‑ reg­u­late”, she said.

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