Knowledge Transfer Conference Scotland

Knowledge Transfer Conference Scotland
St Andrews University
Friday the 4th April 2008

Part One

Knowledge Transfer (KT) involves the two-way flow of ideas, skills and people between the research and higher education community and wider users in Society in the public and private sectors.

As a researcher at Dundee University I was able to attend this conference, which was (surprisingly) free for all Scottish University staff and researchers to attend. I had not anticipated, perhaps naively so on my part, to be in the utmost minority as an arts researcher. To my luck, I was joined by another researcher from the same university and of the same level (year two), although this student was studying as part of a funded project in Molecular Biology.

Our concerns were similar in respect to our supervisory guidance, the pressures of timescale and our aspirations for the future which both included KT in respects of education and teaching. Our differences only became apparent however when commercialism of the University came up in our conversation. My concerns were with the individual researcher and how a University can expect excellence if accruing finance is its only motivation. Being part of a science department that was a ‘stem subject’, she had commercial thinking intrinsically woven into her mindset, one pressure of which was the need to produce a certain number of papers to assure the statistics of positive production. Not so ironically, the introduction to the first talk of the day came under the banner of Research and Commercialism.

The first three talks were a broad introduction to the policies governing research in Scottish Universities. The speakers included Roger McLure the Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, Prof. David Ganni the Director of Research for the Scottish Funding Council and Prof. Ian Sanderson Director of Corporate Analytical Services Directorate, from the Scottish Government. The talks at the outset were science heavy, the only mention of arts and humanities came in the form of a model of how the structure of research was split up ie. Social, Cultural and Commercial. The main crux of the talks were how Scotland could successfully translate Intellectual Property into other assets. The Scottish Government had allocated 1.7 billion to the Higher Education system which also included the college sector (to the dismay of some of the delegates). A whopping 23 million however, had been set aside for knowledge transfer.

At this point I started to wonder exactly what KT was in this commercialised notion of education. As a community arts worker KT happens naturally as part of my job. A translation occurs between my knowledge and how I pass that onto the young people or patients/residents that I work with and vice-versa. In my artistic life, audience in some form is intrinsically part of my practice that in turn informs future research; therefore KT occurs without question. In the commercial world of science and industry however, there has to be this explainable intermediary that is fundamentally accountable to the accounts, the KT coming in the form of patents and ‘interdisciplinary’ arrangements between science, engineers, universities and industry. KT in this sense then, is just another measurable asset that can justify the 23 million that is speculatively offered by the government. One way forward that was suggested in the solution to KT was the suggestion of the development of ‘effective structured networks’, something that I felt has already happened within the arts, humanities and community education sectors of institutions.

The Scottish Psyche was then quoted as having lack of ambition, the ethos of attaining excellence espoused by the ambassadors giving the talks directly in contradiction to this. The obvious route therefore was for universities to be encouraged to seek the best. To help attain this, the Scottish Executive had put aside 2.5 million for PG grant support. It was not stated in which sectors of the universities this support was given, but it was stated that this was for two students of excellence per university in Scotland. Even though Scotland’s alleged current psyche was held up as reason to push for excellence by obtaining research students useful to the economy, it was still apparent that the notion of a learned society was being touted by the resting of laurels on the Scottish Enlightenment of the 1700’s. This raised questions on the value of our education system, and how history and philosophical thought was being aligned with modern economics, an economics that ironically did not appear to take into consideration the equal supporting of the humanities in education.

At the end of the first session then, my concerns were with the future, and how far KT would start to be measured commercially. My thoughts were with basic education, hospitals and schools, and the one to one input that is sometimes necessary for the quality of life of certain individuals. This cannot be measured commercially. Does innovation always equal commercialisation and if so, where does artistic research fit into the overall business ethos of the university? The last question of the session came from a gentleman involved in the Biological Sciences, and was ‘If you espouse excellence, what concessions regarding support have you made for individual students in the research community?’. The answer was ‘Good question, we are not sure if we should put a policy into place for that, but maybe we should.’

As the fate of the individual student is now in the hands of the commercialised university, that is exactly the question that I wanted to ask.