GO OFF AND DO YOUR THING, THEN COME BACK:
ACADEMIA HOLDS ON TO ITS RESEARCH STARS BY SHARING THEM WITH INDUSTRY
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.