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Knowledge Transfer

April 10, 2008 12:00 AM
By Kirsty Williams AM in Blue Skies

At a time when Wales' economy is being driven backwards by a complacent coalition Government, with a 1.4% fall in economic activity over the past year compared to marginal increases in England and Scotland, the UK-wide credit crunch and the economic crisis looming ever larger in the shadows is certainly of little comfort. This along with the overawing emergence of China and India as major international economic powers have presented an industrial challenge never before seen and one which we as a country will have to learn to live with and adapt to. China, with its stringent education system and work ethic is fast showing that 'knowledge' is a key asset in setting the course for sturdy and vigorous economic development. The importance of our 'knowledge economy' is only set to grow, but the key question is, will our knowledge economy itself grow and follow in the footsteps of Ireland's success?

In Wales we have outstanding Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with strengths in innovation and R&D and they are one of our most important sources of Welsh knowledge, but they desperately need closer links with business. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) utilise research expertise to improve companies' bottom lines and give a broader learning experience to students and researchers but their existence and success can be a well kept secret. Whilst Wales does have a number of (KTPs), mainly based within our Universities, due to funding constraints these are often carried out on a small scale. As the Sainsbury Review recommends not only do we need more KTP's we need a mixture of shorter and more flexible schemes and an extension into Further Education Colleges. But for KTPs to be truly successful in Wales they will need greater financial support from the Welsh Assembly Government and improved marketing along with consideration of a "Knowledge Transfer Centre", to develop business-HE collaborations and importantly to teach and support entrepreneurship, as recommended by the Enterprise, Innovation and Networks Committee as long ago as 2006.

Knowledge transfer is a two way process, and while bright young graduates or Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) Associates have a lot to offer our Welsh companies so too do businesses and entrepreneurs have a lot to offer the academics. Commercialising the research and innovation coming from our HEIs can be the greatest hurdle. The worlds of academia and the private sector are very different beasts and require very different skills. All too often those within academia do not have the knowledge or expertise to create the necessary number of spin-out opportunities for research in terms of licensing and commercial application and developing businesses with high growth potential. What is needed is the creation of a more entrepreneurial climate within our universities, among their graduates and in the business community. We need a linkage and porthole for two-way communication between these parties and processes to bring forward a long-term and strategic plan for the development and promotion of a defined Welsh knowledge economy.

As a nation we often seem to have a fear of self promotion; a quality which is essential in promoting our country as a place to do business. We need to be bolder in celebrating innovation and in selling the qualities of our fine academics, entrepreneurs and business success stories to encourage foreign investment and custom. We need to make Wales an obvious location for investment by companies seeking to locate R&D operations and this can only be done by properly managing and investing in the two-way relationship between academics and businesses which will bolster our knowledge economy.

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