University cutbacks

There was clearly a need to make the universities produce more research that was relevant to the needs of the country’s industry.

At least that’s how it seemed to the ministerial folks in charge of the numerous semi-autonomous non-government organisations that funded the plethora of research projects at the universities. To them, at least, it appeared obvious that a lot of public money was being spent on some rather esoteric projects that seemed to serve no useful purpose other than to enhance the reputation of the academics.

So the powers that be decided to do something about it. Not only did they cut back on the amount of spending that they were throwing at the university researchers through the semi-autonomous organisations, they also decided to put into place a new framework for assessing the importance and the quality of the research that they were carrying out.

The university researchers were aghast as the new cuts were instigated and the funding for many of their pet projects withdrawn. They were even less impressed as they saw the number of managers that were responsible for actually assessing their research soar, as their own numbers diminished.

But being aware of their changing fortunes, one group of researchers decided to explore whether the technology they had developed as a result of their research work might be appropriately transferred to the benefit of a local small to medium-sized enterprise (SME).

After several meetings between the university researchers and the company’s management, it became apparent that the technology that the university researchers had developed did indeed look as if it could transform the fortunes of the smaller company. So the two bodies signed a technology-transfer agreement that they believed would be of mutual benefit to them both.

Unfortunately, there were some hurdles to be overcome before the small company could benefit from the research work – not in the least was that the new technology would require the small engineering outfit to invest a substantial sum of money in purchasing new equipment.

Being strapped for cash, the small company decided to approach its local bank for a loan. But the bank had hit hard times and no money was forthcoming for the equipment. Nevertheless, the company management did not give up hope. Instead, they turned to their local regional development organisation with whom they had worked to finance similar deals previously.

Regrettably, the management of that organisation had also been hit by ministerial cuts and so too had the amount of money they were able to provide in funding to help equip SMEs with the manufacturing equipment they needed.

Again, the SME walked away empty handed, and, unable to finance a loan from any investors, has now shelved its plans to deploy the university technology until the economic climate changes for the better and the government opens up its purse once more.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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