Examples and Case Studies
Examples and case studies showing the value created by the knowledge ecosystem of the universities
Applied science dries up quickly unless we maintain the sources of discovery in pure science.
Former US President Herbert Hoover (1954)
Advances in knowledge and technology drove more than half of US economic growth during the first half of the 20th century.
Robert Solow, Nobel Prize-winning economist
Mixing research, education and the outside world
For IARU institutions, high-impact research – whether it is fundamental or applied – is an integral part of the university's mission to advance the boundaries of knowledge and contribute to the betterment of society. Fundamental research is of value in its own right and can lead to transformative, early stage technology development. Also, through the dissemination of intellectual capital to the community by publication and the in-depth education of skilled graduates, value is created and expanded.
In these cases, the intertwining of applies research, fundamental research, companies engaging with the university to create research and even employing students or researchers from the university is what creates the full value – not the mere fundamental or applied research in itself.
The IARU knowledge ecosystem
Knowledge never exists in isolation, and the discoveries made at research-intensive universities frequently pave the way for new research to emerge. Through collaborations, different individuals and organizations come together in an ecosystem of learning and knowledge, each adding its own value to the larger perspective and aiding in uncovering significant new knowledge, coming together to increase the flow of knowledge.
Within IARU, the various institutions have come together to work on a series of research projects, drawing on the different strengths and expertise of the parties involved to attain even more knowledge on the relevant research topics. Two examples of such projects are the "Aging, Longevity and Health" initiative and the "Sustainable Cities" research project. The former leverages on the research done at respective IARU universities and integrates them in a multidisciplinary manner, so that various factors such as epidemiology and cultural traits can be taken into account in identifying biomarkers and planning interventions. The latter project combines interlinked sub-projects led by different IARU partners in order to derive a better, cross-disciplinary understanding of how to achieve sustainability in cities through a range of different approaches such as food flow, carbon use and land use.
Major advancement in sciences and technology are drawn from many other disciplines
Research in the sciences and technology has traditionally received greater attention, again due to assumptions about practical worth, but the complex nature of research advances usually does not allow for any innovation to be tracked back to a single source, study or even discipline. Research frequently builds upon the new knowledge discovered by previous research in many areas.
Lord Krebs, in his evidence to the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee (2008-9), pointed to a study by Sir William Paten described in his book, "Man and Mouse", in which ten key advances in cardiovascular medicine were traced back to about 600 papers from 400 different disciplines. Over 40% of them had nothing to do with cardiovascular medicine and many of them were not carried out in medical departments but in departments of chemistry, engineering, physics, botany, agriculture, zoology etc.
Similar examples can be found at IARU institutions. For instance, the National University of Singapore is currently undertaking a research project "Biology of Decision Making under Risk", a project combining the fields of psychology and economics, and involving methodology employed in the neurosciences, psychology, experimental economics and human genetics.
Direct contact with research and researchers will impart greater depth of knowledge to students
In a speech on "Undergraduate Education and the Research University" former Yale President Richard Levin shared the many "special advantages" that come with education at a research-intensive university. Most notably, he highlighted the opportunities for students to be mentored by, and work alongside, leading professors in the fields of history, art, geology and evolutionary biology, among other areas, drawing directly from rich resources available at the university museums – Yale Art Gallery, Centre for British Art and Peabody Museum of Natural History. There are countless other examples of pioneering research and ground breaking solutions developed in laboratories by researchers who also mentor and teach.
Research-led education emphasizes how knowledge constantly grows and new discoveries are made, spurring students on to learn actively and through experience, rather than be passive recipients of existing knowledge. At Yale and many other research-universities, students follow professors on research trips, which will then be further analyzed at the university's laboratories. For example, in a biology forest expedition, Yale students found organisms which effectively degrade plastic and are looking into their potential for practical use in the biodegradation of plastics.
Education through research delivers not only knowledge but also skills of questioning and inquiry
Research invigorates young minds with the fundamental skills of questioning and inquiry. A critical mind is key to conducting quality research, but the ability to view things from an analytical standpoint extends itself far beyond the immediate and even beyond academia.
The process of research involves multiple skill sets, from the ability to identify and ask important questions in the earliest phases of research, to analytical skills involved in examining and understanding the data derived, to drawing a conclusion based on the 'bigger picture'. Eventually, a deeper understanding of the real-world significance of research findings is required in drawing up further studies and coming up with applications that build upon the knowledge created through such research.
The development of these skill sets ensures that the process of research delivers not just new knowledge, but also the ability to seek even higher learning and apply oneself beyond the immediate context. For instance, Dr. Saravanan Kuppan at the National University of Singapore developed a novel-architectured mesoporous titanium dioxide (TiO2) in his PhD thesis for the Department of Chemistry, and set about applying it in the area of environmental sustainability, through usage in lithium-ion batteries to aid in more efficient energy storage.
Research-led education produces high-quality graduates that are attractive to employers and organizations
Graduates of research-intensive universities are not just trained academic minds; they are assets to potential employers and the economy. The qualities that they pick up are prized by organizations and corporate entities, with such recognition manifesting itself in terms of employment, status and opportunities in life.
Here are some examples from IARU institutions:
- The average Cambridge graduate receives £4,100 more in Government teaching grant support than the average UK graduate but contributes a net present value (NPV) of approximately £61,100 more in income tax during their working life. This additional teaching grant support produces a return on investment, measured in income tax paid, of approximately 13.9 times.
- In 2008, a study by BusinessWeek.com placed Yale alumni at the top of the list in terms of midcareer salaries, with top earners from Yale bringing home US$326,000 per annum, compared to a public university whose highest earners were paid US$124,000 per annum. Starting salaries at Yale were also among the highest in the nation at US$59,100 per annum.
Graduates of research-led education are community-minded and contribute positively to society
Beyond academics and economics, research-intensive universities seek to nurture well-rounded individuals with community-minded values, with an eye on giving back to society. Environmental friendliness is a key objective of the Berkeley PowerSave Green Campus program – a student-driven effort towards sustainability. The program utilizes innovative methods such as energy-saving contests between residential halls ("Blackout Battles"), fraternity houses ("Green Cup") and laboratories ("Shut the Sash") to raise interest and awareness in combating environmental issues. At the Yale School of Architecture, service to the community takes the form of The Vlock Building Project, which aids the community in New Haven through designing and building low-cost residences in the area. Every first-year architecture student participates in the project, with the resultant housing helping to provide home ownership and stability to the city. More than 7,700 University of Cambridge students and staff take part in voluntary work, in which student societies take an active role, contributing the equivalent of £3m worth of time to help nearly half a million people annually.
Applicable research leading to patent / licensing / spin-off companies
Building on foundational knowledge gained through basic research in research-intensive universities, applied research can be conducted with an eye on economic benefits. Many innovations have resulted from such research work, leading to new corporate entities that function on bringing the applications and associated benefits of research to the world at large.
At the University of Cambridge, more than 50 companies have spun-out directly, with the university investing in internal organizations and policies designed to manage intellectual property, generate contracts, and support licensing and spin-outs.
Within the University of Oxford, commercialization of intellectual property is undertaken through ISIS Innovation, which has established 50 spin-out companies over the last five years.
At ETH Zurich, researchers and students have set up 110 spin-off companies in the period 2010-2014. According to an internal survey of ETH spin-offs, they generated sales of CHF 585 million in 2013. The survey also found that the start-ups had created around 2,500 jobs by 2013. Non-directly quantifiable benefits include the formation of innovation clusters and the attraction of highly qualified students and faculty to ETH Zurich. ETH spin-offs also have significantly higher survival rates, create more jobs, attract more venture capital and Angel investments and provide higher returns on equity than the average of all Swiss start-up companies created over a similar time period.
How the Berkeley knowledge ecosystem creates everyday value
For residents living near research-intensive universities, they are likely to have benefitted from such an ecosystem – whether they know it or not! For example we follow Jill, living in Berkeley, California, on her morning run:
- Gets up, has a couple of Cutie Oranges (UC Riverside)
- Plots her route on an internet map (UC Irvine, HTTP development)
- Turns on her iPod (UCLA)
- Heads to Fort Point National Park (UC Berkeley Alumnus, Horace Albright, Conservationist)
- Runs on her repaired knee (UCSF Medical Centre)
- Past the clean lakes maintained by UC San Diego, Clean Water Initiative
Providing thought leadership, consultation and expertise for industry, government and society
Corporate organizations often rely on the foundational knowledge generated by research within universities for their own industrial advances. Likewise, government bodies and the society at large also draw upon the expertise of these institutes in strategic planning and policy-making. Key decisions can be made confidently based on the strength of such knowledge.
The University of Copenhagen, for instance, provided value to industry partners, increasing their productivity per employee by a yearly average of 6.5 %. The positive causal link to increasing productivity corresponds to an annual net gain of €7,000 per employee on the bottom line for each company as an effect of collaborating with the university. On average, this corresponds to a yearly €2.43 million improvement of the bottom line of each industry partner, as the average company size is about 350 employees.
The University of Oxford employs a dedicated consultancy staff serving an international clientele. One such partnership was established in September 2007 with hedge fund provider Man Group, resulting in the set-up of the Oxford Man Institute of Quantitative Finance. The organization provides investment for the university, while the university provides research access and expertise to its partner.