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Home > Tech Reiews > Tech Bulletin Last Updated: 15:25 03/09/2007
Tech Bulletin #4: May 13, 2002

GETI/GLOCOM Platform Joint Seminar

National Science Foundation Programs to Encourage University-Industry Research Cooperation

Summary by GETI Staff

Date: May 07, 2002
Place: GLOCOM; 6-15-12 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Speaker: Dr. William Blanpied (Director NSF Tokyo Regional Office)
Topic: National Science Foundation Programs to Encourage University-Industry Research Cooperation

Dr. Blanpied provided a detailed summary of the methodology currently being used in the United States in regard to developing productive and efficient university-industry cooperative relationships.

Dr. Blanpied began with a discussion of U.S. expenditures for R&D, including funding which the National Science Foundation provides. The total funding equaled some $264.6b in 2000, the majority of which came from industry (68.4%), followed by government which provided a little over 26% of the total. This, he noted, is very similar in percentage terms to the amount deployed in 1940, when the total budget was only $3.62b (in 1998 dollars). This shows a continuity between levels and government and private sector funding, refuting the myth that `in the old days` government provided a great deal of technology development funding. This was and still is an exception to the rule, absent wartime related build-ups. Yet, government funding of basic research during the post-war period, including funds earmarked for university-based research, increased especially after the 1970s. Before WWII, the government did not support university research. In general, R&D by government agency is dominated by the Department of Defense at $34.4b (2001), and the Department of Health and Human Services (mainly NIH) at $19.2b. Other departments with significant R&D include the NSF itself ($3.2b), NASA, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture.

R&D as a percentage of GDP is the highest in Japan, as is non-defense related R&D/GDP expenditures. Japan leads by a significant margin in both categories, followed by the U.S. and Germany. It is clear, however, that the U.S. excels in basic research where as Japan focuses more on applied research that leads to commercialization. This may be due to the relative inefficiency of the Japanese university system in producing cutting edge technology based on basic research. This may be one reason why it is perceived that Japan is not receiving enough value for its total R&D expenditures in terms of developing innovative technologies on the basic research level. A lack of significant federal and corporate funding into Japanese university programs, in the past, has perhaps been the greatest factor behind this phenomenon. American university research expenditures totaled some $26.2b in 1998, some 11% of the U.S. total, with basic research receiving 69%, applied research 24%.

Dr. Blanpied emphasized the importance of current NSF priorities, which includes interdisciplinary research, the integration of research and education, and international research and education partnerships. This focus was facilitated by favorable U.S. legislation passed in he 1980s. NSF has been funding programs to promote university-industry research partnerships since the late 1970s, which include Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers and Science and Technology Centers. Examples of some of the centers include, Nanobiotechnology, Computer Graphics and Scientific Visualization and Advanced Liquid Crystalline Optical Materials, among others. The 20 year old program of NSF Industry/Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRCs) is now includes 50 operational centers. NSF funding requirements include the need for at least 6 industrial partners, which helps the illustrate the realization of the importance of the role of private industry.

One example Dr. Blanpied provided in regard the above was in the state of California. This project, initiated in 1996, involves all 10 UC campuses with a total funding of $60m per year, with over half coming from industry. In California, grants are awarded in six broad fields that include biotechnology, communications, digital media innovations, economic impact research, micro-electronics, electronics manufacturing and life sciences/information technology. The state of California, according to Dr. Blanpied, has prioritized the economic efficiency of the program, which includes measuring its relevance toward providing a source of vitality for the state`s economy, its ability to generate spin-off companies and its ability to train highly-skilled graduates.

Dr. Blanpied emphasized some important factors which has contributed to the growth of university-based government funded research initiatives in the U.S. One key element was the importance of competition among academics, which spurs innovation and leads to the promotion of the best and the brightest. These people are able to thrive in the U.S. system, regardless of nationality, and the U.S. economy benefits as a result. In Japan, hierarchical structures and limitations on the activities of university professors relating to working with/in start-ups and opportunities for associate professors, post-doc students and the like, among other factors, have led to a relative lack of productive efficiency on the Japanese side. However, there is a belief that there are signs of change and that, with the proper structural changes, Japan could be a formidable producer of innovative technologies borne of out university research. Some suggested changes include more power provided to regions and a more flexible education system. Some promising university research centers include ones at Kyushu University and Tohoku University, along with such established names as the University of Tokyo.

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