Research students can be good for business

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The Independent Online

Britain's businesses are being encouraged to make use of a widely untapped source of expert help - university research expertise.

Britain's businesses are being encouraged to make use of a widely untapped source of expert help - university research expertise.

The OU is teaming postgraduate research students with industry as part of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP), a part-Government-funded initiative which gives the students - known in the scheme as associates - practical study opportunities, enables the university to put its name to valued research and potentially boosts a company's profits.

Thousands of postgraduates undertake research projects every year. But while every project is vital for the student in attaining the next qualification, the findings could also have a relevance elsewhere - and be hugely significant for a business.

"KTP is of benefit to all parties," says Elaine Barton who works to support research at the Open University in the Intellectual Property Management Office. "Businesses, students and the university all gain something from it:

Examples of previous KTP successes include a university business school student helping a waste-management company to re-brand itself, a chemistry graduate designing a new hand-held instrument to monitor potentially harmful chemicals and a cheese company enjoying a 10 per cent increase in sales after a student designed a more efficient database.

The university supports KTP in two ways, academic research expertise and graduate placements. All projects - most are technology, science or business-based and typically include market research, production equipment processes or IT and computer systems - begin with the university and a company submitting a joint research proposal to the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships Office.

Once funding for the KTP research proposal is approved, the partners recruit a postgraduate student who, with the aid of an academic supervisor, is employed by a company on a temporary basis (anything from one to three years) to further a specific area of research. The student - who may be from the OU or another university - is paid a salary and the university receives funds from the scheme for the academic's time and overheads. "The research boosts the company's competitiveness and employee development potential," says Barton. "The university gains expertise in current business developments, enhancing its research and teaching; and the postgraduates benefit from business-based training and research development, which enhances their career prospects."

The OU has earned an enviable reputation for its research into everything from medical breakthroughs to space exploration. Firms interested in joining a KTP with OU research should contact Elaine Barton on 01908 659783 or e-mail PDG-IPMO@open.ac.uk. For details of the DTI part-funded scheme and current graduate opportunities visit www.ktponline.org.uk

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