Scientists do not want to team up with private sector

Scientists seem more motivated by solving complicated puzzles than earning a good living by teaming up with the private sector. Photo Shutterstock

Politicians have long worked to stimulate cooperation between universities and industry, coming up with all kinds of grand new projects, from Top Sectors to the National Research Agenda.

But what about researchers themselves? Are they as eager to team up with commercial players? Not really, report researchers at Utrecht University and the Rathenau Institute. A choice experiment among 3,145 university researchers revealed they’d much rather work with their peers.

The reasons aren’t surprising. As the study shows, a high potential for publications is the main reason researchers choose to collaborate. That’s easier to accomplish with fellow researchers than with industry.

Researchers also often see little point in increasing the profits of commercial enterprises. Moreover, they don’t want to risk their academic freedom and scientific integrity.

The study also looked at factors that motivated respondents. For this it used three existing categories: the ‘puzzle’, the ‘ribbon’ and the ‘gold’.

The vast majority of respondents (59.7 percent) were motivated by the puzzle. They’re driven by an innate curiosity and enjoy solving tricky problems. Puzzlers are least motivated to partner with industry.

Those who go for the ribbon are mainly after scientific recognition and keen to impress their peers and quickly scale the academic ladder. Around a third of respondents (32.6 percent) fell into this category.

It’s researchers who ‘go for the gold’ who – for the right price – are most inclined to collaborate with industry. They see their career as a way to earn a good living. Among the respondents, they formed the smallest group (7.7 percent).

The report also cites previous research finding that companies are by no means all queuing up to work with university researchers. “The question is whether it’s worth it to keep pushing collaboration when neither party is all that interested”, concluded Frank van Rijnsoever, who does innovation research at Utrecht. “It may be better to invest in ways of using scientific knowledge that people are more open to.”