Developing benefical international university and industry research partnerships

Kay Henderson
Weir Group Plc


 
Abstract
Introduction
The Weir Group Plc and the University of Strathclyde have developed a successful strategic partnership where both sides commit effort and resource to align research needs and capabilities over a five-year horizon (Bickley & Nash, 2018). The agreement includes a governance and communication model that is designed to continually review progress and facilitate modifications as needed. The Weir Advanced Research Centre is now located in the Technology & Innovation Centre (TIC) of the University to help with communications both with the University and its other research partners. The agreement is regarded as a success by both partners and sets the stage for a long-term relationship which looks further ahead, has more funding and better aligned goals.
While the partnership continues to thrive and succeed, Weir has recognised the need to develop strategic partnerships with international universities in areas where expertise does not exist within the UK. The drivers for this are 1. As an international company Weir has operations worldwide and is in a strong position to participate in international funding schemes that are aligned to Weir business operations and will benefit the countries in question in terms of skills development, knowledge and job creation. This in turn has a benefit to all Weir business as knowledge can be shared throughout the organization leading to product development and process and system improvements. 2. As the UK prepares to exit the European Union the funding situation remains precarious. Despite the UK government pledge to underwrite EU funded projects this situation cannot continue in the long term. Industry and academia are exploring alternative funding streams and creating new opportunities for collaboration. 3. The wish to identify and create industry driven international centres of research excellence and co-operation where academics and industry can carry undertake long-term entrepreneurial blue-sky thinking. 4. To identify research excellence which does not currently exist at UK or European universities. 5 To facilitate long-term international networks for industry and academia.


Methodology/Approach

Weir Group have undertaken a holistic review of strategic aims and have developed four technology arenas which clearly outline areas where research activity and building capacity would provide significant business benefit over time. Weir divisions have also carried out a technology mapping exercise to identify the challenges that will affect the business over a ten-year period which will translate into research projects within the technology arenas. Weir Advanced Research Centre (WARC) are using these technology maps as part of initial engagement with universities to map levels of expertise using capability maps to match the universities expertise in arenas relevant to Weir. To date Weir have met with a small group of universities of North American universities and are at the beginning of this process having carried out preliminary capability matching.

Previous research between Weir and the University of Strathclyde examined two specific models the Stairway Model and the University Industry Demonstration Partnership as methods of identifying the current stage of the existing partnership and the transition to becoming strategic partners.
Weir would like to build on the knowledge gained from this research and to test these models with an international university identified as a potential strategic partner with whom contact has already been initiated. With the benefits in mind Weir will investigate if the models used to develop the Strathclyde strategic partnership can be applied and/or adapted to international universities or if a new model is required and what that model might look like.
The exercise with Strathclyde demonstrated the need for both parties to feel confident in committing to a long-term partnership and confident that they could meet expectations and deliver objectives. The additional challenges in applying this model in an international environment will have to be considered such as culture, funding criteria, regulatory, contractual and legal environment, IP and data protection.
Using a combination of the methods above this paper will:

• Briefly outline the process of developing the strategic partnership between Weir and the University of Strathclyde to provide context to the research.

• Differentiate what makes a strategic partnership and what makes it work.

• Describe the engagement process and steps involved in developing a strategic partnership with international universities by analysing the appropriateness of the two models outlined above or in the development of a new model which incorporates the challenges identified.

• Demonstrate the method of capability mapping to match Weir technology arenas with academic expertise.




Conclusion

Weir are just beginning to explore strategic partnerships with international universities and at the time of writing cannot state impact in real terms. The company knows what it wants to achieve, and part of the process will be defining a criterion to assess impact and benefits for both parties. However, in demonstrating the Weir process for international engagement the company hope to share knowledge gained and to obtain feedback.