Industry-Sponsored Research Week
University-Industry Engagement Advisor

The good, bad, and the ugly of research consortia


By David Schwartz
Published: July 31st, 2018

Here’s a multiple-choice question: Which is true?

  1. Consortia are great for universities, but for corporations, not so much.
  2. Yes, consortia can be good for universities, but they shouldn’t command a significant percentage of the time you spend on sponsored research.
  3. Consortia can be great for universities and corporations.

The correct answer? All of the above — it just depends on the model you use, and what you put into your program.

Take, for example, the outlook of Ed Krause, global manager of external alliances for Ford Motor Co. Research and Advanced Engineering. “Universities like consortia — they are possibly their favorite interaction model, or certainly up there,” he says. “They generally bring in a lot of money compared with [one-on-one] research projects; they tend to be ongoing and predictable.”

But for Ford, consortia are hardly a top priority. “Consortia are more monitoring than collaboration, and we want collaboration,” he says. “If a university has been good to us we often support the consortium as a favor.”

“The advantages of a consortium arrangement are economy of scale and inter-disciplinary interactions,” notes Gregory R. Miller, vice dean of the University of Washington’s College of Engineering. He adds, however, that “in terms of the national consortia, none of which are housed here, that’s a relatively small part our portfolio, and will probably not ever be a huge percentage.”

Krause describes various aspects of consortia as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The good: “They can often bring in significant government dollars, which leverages industrial funding,” he says. “If it’s done well, it’s pre-competitive. You want all your competitors there doing work you all need, like standards. All these competitors can be cooperative.”

The bad: Government funding comes with a lot of strings attached, like K-12 programs or small business set-asides. “Requirements make things very difficult to manage,” says Krause. “All of a sudden it’s a big administrative chore and it can be difficult to focus on research.”

What’s more, he continues, “most professors are really more individual workers; they’re not going to drop their main interests and be role players in a consortium.” His caution: “Beware of faculty work repackaging.”

Another drawback, Krause says, is that a consortium can require significant time and effort on committee work. “Companies often underestimate the time; academics consider it normal and acceptable.”

The ugly: With competitors involved, you often get what Krause calls “guarded expertise” — that is, where a company that is very good in one area does not want the consortium involved in that area, while others want to catch up on their lead. “Universities do not fully understand what competitive is,” he asserts. “They assume everything is pre-competitive and will work well, but usually it doesn’t.”

Finally, he says, you often have too many “cooks” in the “kitchen.” “What aerospace and pharma companies want from a university can be very different, and if you have more than one boss you really don’t have a boss,” says Krause.

A detailed article on determining and enhancing the value of research consortia appears in the July issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To subscribe and get the full article, along with access to the publication’s entire archive of expert guidance and strategies for building research partnerships and improving corporate engagement, CLICK HERE.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

Twitter Facebook Linkedin Pinterest Email

No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment