AN EXPERT has warned Scottish ministers not to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” when they make changes to the ways in which universities interact with businesses.
Derek Waddell, commercialisation director at Edinburgh University, said the independence of Interface – a public body set up in 2005 to help small businesses access university expertise – must be preserved amid moves to create a “single knowledge exchange office” for Scotland.
Finance secretary John Swinney last year issued guidance calling for a single body to oversee interactions between “academia and industry”.
A report published in September by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and Universities Scotland suggested a beefed-up role for Interface. A consultation on the report closed last week.
Waddell said: “Interface has the respect of both businesses and universities because it is seen as independent and that’s its unique selling point. There are some tasks that Interface could take on but we must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
“If it takes over work like writing template licensing agreements then it might be seen as being too close to the university camp.”
His comments came as new figures showed companies that have worked with university researchers over the past three years through Interface have grown their sales by more than £17 million.
More than 50 jobs had been safeguarded through the universities’ work with small businesses, with a further 25 jobs created.
An SFC report last year showed such partnerships were adding £23.7m to the Scottish economy each year.
Siobhán Jordan, director of Interface, said that whatever changes are made to her organisation’s remit must be driven by the needs of small businesses.
“We need to look at ways to increase the demand for our services from small companies,” Jordan said.
“We need to work with trade bodies and other business organisations to promote the benefits that companies can get from working with universities on products and services.”
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