The following is an excerpt.
The demands for innovation mean that NTNU is becoming more closely linked to industry. This makes its collaboration with SINTEF more difficult, CASA´s director Magnus Langseth writes in this cronichle.
«This development has weakened one of our strengths – the close interaction between the two institutions.
Collaboration between NTNU and SINTEF has never been smooth, but now the increased tension means that we need a completely new collaboration model. As early as 2015, one of the reports in the “Better together” project revealed that increasing overlap, greater competition, stronger tensions, and divergent focuses are the major challenges between us. This applies especially to the Research Council’s programmes: SFI (Centres for Research-based Innovation) and FME (Centres for Environment-Friendly Energy Research). I am the director of a second SFI in the SIMLab research group and recognize these tensions. I also consider that the above challenges have increased during the past 5 years.
NTH’S PARTNER IN APPLIED RESEARCH
Since 1950, the twin institutions in Trondheim have been responsible for formidable value creation for Norway. NTH started SINTEF as its partner in applied research with industry. Over the years we have both grown, SINTEF has switched to a group model, becoming a more independent and complex organization with greater attention given to earnings. At the same time, SINTEF employees have increased their internal focus on basic research and scientific publishing. On the NTNU side, the focus is moving towards external funding, innovation, more applied research, product development and closer contact with industry.
In short; we have become more alike. We compete for the same contracts, for large projects and research funding from both the Research Council of Norway and the EU. The foundation of the relationship has always been collaboration between professional groups. This is where the tension is felt most. When this relationship starts to fail, it becomes difficult to maintain productive innovation.
SFI HIGHLIGHTS THE AREAS OF TENSION
Innovation is a general term for invention, change, value creation, new products, services and production processes. Politicians, the Research Council, university management and industry want more of everything.
The SFI programme is the Research Council of Norway’s major investment in innovation. To date, around NOK 8 billion in public and private funding has been spent on partnerships between industry and the public sector in internationally outstanding research environments. The innovation that takes place at the partners is the result of the ground-breaking research delivered by the SFI centres. In my thirteenth year as an SFI director, I see that this programme has highlighted the areas of tension between NTNU and SINTEF.
EXCELLENT RESEARCH VS. DEMAND FOR EARNINGS
We have excellent researchers on both sides. But where NTNU’s people can immerse themselves in the task of SFI research full time, SINTEF staff must handle numerous projects throughout the year. This means that they do not have the same opportunities for specialization as us. Last year, SINTEF carried out 4600 projects for 3600 customers.
The troubling question can be expressed as follows: Is the drive to innovate based on internationally outstanding research compatible with SINTEF’s business model, where the demand for earnings is crucial?
Developing world-class research requires time and a substantial amount of work. That is why the Research Council funds SFIs for 8 years. Our partners also require that we publish in leading international journals. This makes them confident we are engaged in top quality research when they decide to use the results.
NTNU CAN HANDLE MATTERS ALONE
Educating a doctoral candidate takes 4 years. The person in question acquires a lot of new knowledge in this time. Industry often needs help to make the best possible use of it. This used to be SINTEF’s task. However, because NTNU now has completely different requirements for innovation and earnings than before, the university must also take an active part in transferring this knowledge. We need to work more closely with industry in order to find new areas where research can result in more innovation.
This means that NTNU is becoming increasingly independent. As the collaboration model is today, the university is managing without SINTEF.
It is not popular to state these facts so bluntly. The relationship between the partners is becoming frayed. These tensions must be taken seriously. We have not become “Better together” at all since the numerous challenges were documented in 2015. If we are to achieve the innovation everyone wants, we must regain the balance. If we continue to collide with each other, we destroy opportunities and waste the funding that society gives us».
Professor and director of SFI CASA at NTNU