Image of jigsaw pieces with writing saying Bridge the gap
Dr David Johnson smiling at camera

By Dr David JohnsonLecturer in Entrepreneurship, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. Visiting Research Fellow, Interface – The Knowledge Connection for Business. 


“Academics are judged by their papers and grants…commercial activities take a lot of time and work…I find that extremely difficult to encourage…”

 (Group Leader – Scottish University)


There are many competing priorities for academic teams to deliver excellence in teaching, research and knowledge exchange as the thought-provoking statement illustrates.  Academic-industry engagement is an important driver of university translational activities and university-centred entrepreneurial ecosystems. However, most of our university commercial activity knowledge resides in the understanding of university patent licensing and spinouts; we know very little about academic-industry contract research activities, specifically the antecedents and motivations for academics to engage with industrial partners. 

The ‘triple helix model’ requires active, synergistic collaboration between universities, industry, and government, which can lead to greater innovation and regional economic growth. Central to this model is the university academic who must deviate from their entrenched role-identity of researcher and educator and engage in commercial activities. Yet, academic engagement in commercial activities has been shown to create unique tensions. Why, then, do some academics choose to engage in commercial activities with industrial partners?

This question is central to our Carnegie Trust funded research. Specifically, we are investigating, first, what stimulates academics to enter into industry-initiated contract research agreements? Second, are some contract research proposals more likely to result in engagement than others?

To address these research questions, we are conducting computational linguistic analyses on over 3,000 industry-initiated Interface enquiry forms (industry led contract research proposals). At the same time, we are interviewing academics across the Scottish universities to understand their motivations and experiences of engaging with industry.

Whilst findings will impart important theoretical contributions, they will also uncover important practical and policy implications. Specifically, findings will reveal the underlying mechanisms and key determinants that encourage academics to engage with industry. This will have particular importance to universities and their research commercialisation offices; industrial partners, particularly Scottish SMEs; and governments trying to foster university-industry engagement.

Call to action: I am keen to speak to more academics at Scottish universities, specifically, academics who have experience of participating in Interface-brokered industry R&D projects and also academics that have little or no experience. If you would like to contribute, please contact

08 July 2021

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