Issue



Fostering Innovation Through Academia Collaboration


01/01/2007







Continuous innovation is key to future survival and growth of businesses operating in increasingly competitive global markets. The electronics-systems design sector requires constant access to a pipeline of skilled design engineers and researchers to meet the needs of the rapidly changing global semiconductor industry. Scientists and engineers contribute significantly to the economic health of a nation, yet attracting the brightest and most creative minds to this profession is a continuing challenge. Maintaining the supply of skilled science and engineering students is necessary to remain competitive and increase productivity.

The long-term outlook for the semiconductor industry indicates a continuing need for thousands of engineers in the next decade and beyond, to develop and exploit advanced technologies that will ultimately benefit consumers worldwide. There will be an increasing need to develop new processes and products that will largely depend on the availability and talent of scientists and engineers. With a decline in the number of students taking science, math, and engineering qualifications - combined with a lack of transferable skills among graduates - the industry is faced with the prospect of reduced productivity and competitiveness. It is our collective responsibility to inspire young students to enter the profession from early schooling through undergraduate, postgraduate training, and beyond. This concern is being independently addressed by industry, universities, professional bodies, and governments alike; however, cooperation between these groups must be fostered to increase the impact of public investments in our sector.

For example, in our industry, postgraduate study is fundamental for developing the highest level of science and engineering skills, but, regrettably, training students at Ph.D.-level doesn’t always translate to exploitable research that can be used effectively in the marketplace. The attraction to further study has declined due to several factors including the need to reduce student debt by opting for employment, funding that covers less time than the duration of the course, and inadequate development of commercial training. Many employers initially pay Ph.D.s a similar wage to new graduates, making further study even less attractive. By making available immense networks of departments and skill sets via collaborations of academia, industry, and economic development agencies, many of these issues may be addressed.

Industry has a clear need for more commercially relevant researchers, so within the U.K., concept Ph.D.-level programs - namely engineering doctorates (EngDs) - are available in a variety of disciplines. In each contract, a student is paired with an interested company sponsor on whose behalf they undertake innovative, commercially relevant research projects, defined and directed by the company with supervision from academic and industrial tutors. The sponsored research student receives a satisfactory, tax-free income while gaining Ph.D.-level skills in a commercially orientated environment.

Within these programs, industry and academia collaborate on ground-breaking projects to bring significant benefits to both students and employers. Sponsors, from start-ups to large multinationals, own all newly generated intellectual property (IP) and the research engineers not only graduate with a doctorate-level degree, but also with first-rate research skills and hands-on experience of project management, finance, marketing, and economics.

By partnering with academic institutes and universities, companies involved in these schemes can better leverage their resources, enabling them to move more easily into new profitable areas of research and cutting-edge development projects. Such individual investments are vitally important for the industry as a whole since they serve to provide a rewarding and attractive future for graduates and build a stronger engineering and science base.

Conclusion

R&D is widely regarded as one of the most important factors in the innovation process; it is therefore imperative to stimulate its commercialization and encourage more collaborative projects in R&D through partnership schemes linking institutes, universities, and industry. Investment in collaborative projects with academia opens opportunities to the best science and engineering graduates and postgraduates, and facilitates future business success.

This is most effectively achieved by listening to industry and consulting worldwide to develop a better understanding of skills and research needs. Academia may then anticipate the requirements and importance to complex system design for the sector more precisely, which in turn leads to more innovative collaborations between academia and industry, promulgating knowledge and nurturing much-needed talent.

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TONY HARKER, CEO, may be contacted at the Institute for System Level Integration (iSLI), Alba Centre, Alba Campus, Livingston, Scotland, U.K. EH54 7EG; 44/1506 469 300; E-mail: sli@sli-institute.ac.uk.