The government must fund applied research at modern universities as well as the old guard if technical challenges are to be met
At a time when the housing market is cooling, material prices are rising, skilled labour is scarce and a significant number of professionals approach retirement, the industry needs government support more than ever. The industry faces many challenges involving legislative factors, new technical requirements and unique external pressures and demands previously unseen in their sector.
One area that would assist in tackling the future technical challenges is funding of “applied research and development”. This can provide innovative solutions in products, systems, processes and new training delivery mechanisms. It is interesting to note that at the recent Parliamentary Select Committee for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform none of the modern universities which undertake so much of the applied research for the industry were asked to comment. If research funding for the industry is addressed lets hope it is not restricted to the “old guard”.
Some of the most recent forward thinking applied practical research work has been undertaken by the modern universities with industry support and funding. The lack of government funds to support this very applied “near to market” work is concerning.
The lack of government funds to support this very applied “near to market” work is concerning
Projects such as the Robust Standards Details (Napier University) or more recently work on energy convection losses in party wall cavities (Leeds Metropolitan), are but a tiny sample of positive collaborative work with industry. Such work brings a fresh approach to regulations, current processes and solutions and provides extensive knowledge transfer.
R&D funding to companies and industry sectors is provided by a range of mechanisms across diverse government departments and there is a need to centralise these more effectively. In addition the majority of government funding is supplied to universities via the UK Research Councils.
However, the latter is predominantly focused on older universities and geared towards longer term and more theoretical work. We do need to be forward thinking and we do need such research. However, at the same time we must ask what are the applied outcomes to UK plc of the long term theoretical work undertaken over the last two decades?
The government may be funding £50 million towards energy related research projects at our universities. But there may not be one housebuilder, technical director or industry organisation involved.
At present the government may be funding £50 million towards energy related research projects at our universities. But there may not be one housebuilder, technical director or industry organisation involved.
Universities are currently higher ranked in their research by government for their journal output and international esteem rather than what they offer UK plc.
There are some very practical Industry & University R&D funding mechanisms which can provide between 35% to 60% government-funded contribution towards eligible costs (eg Knowledge Transfer Partnerships). But their slice of the total research funding cake needs to be significantly increased and project protocols need to be slightly improved for construction industry practicality. To move industry and applied research institutions forward, the government needs to increase research funding towards more practical and near-term challenges.
Sean Smith is the associate dean for Industry Knowledge Transfer at Napier University