Change in Universities, “Technology Transfer”, and the Commercial World: An Irreconcilable Clash of Cultures?
This essay was finalized on 29th June, 2008. It is set in the contemporary context of increasing economic stress world-wide, due to climate change, rising fuel costs, and increased awareness of need to use limited resources in optimal fashion. It describes, and offers a critique of the changes in universities in the last twenty years, discusses and criticizes policies for research assessment, and (less sharply) those being adopted to encourage “technology transfer”. Looking at the last two hundred and fifty years, it seeks precedents where there was successful interplay between university research and commercial application. It criticizes both currently-dominant trends within science (where the real mission of science seems to have been forgotten), and the unacceptable face of the commercial world, especially for very large enterprises. If the challenges of today’s world are to be resolved, it is necessary for the world of academic science to return to its original traditions (and give up the “game-play”, which pervades so much of present-day academia). It is also necessary for the commercial world to become more transparent, adopting some of the ethos, formerly associated with universities. “If the worlds of academia and commerce do not hang together, they will certainly, in due course, hang separately.”