Colleges struggle to cash in on research

A new report released Wednesday by the Ohio Board of Regents aims to commercialize university research to create jobs, promote economic growth and increase wealth in Ohio.

The report does not identify programs for specific schools, but the changes are designed to help students and faculty produce “the next great products and services in the market.”

“Our university system of Ohio must recognize that our universities can play a very significant role in the job creation and getting the Ohio economy back on its feet,” said Regent Vinod Gupta.

Gupta chaired the committee during the past eight months that produced the “Condition of Higher Education in Ohio: Advancing Ohio’s Innovative Economy” report.

The report, which was unanimously approved by the regents, includes eight key recommendations to create a statewide system to improve collaboration between higher education and businesses.

Students would see increased opportunities to perform internships, to promote their intellectual property ideas and to be exposed to entrepreneurial curriculum that will help them produce “the next great products and services in the market.”

While Ohio universities have been successful in winning research dollars, between 70 percent and 94 percent of research is not turned into new technology, products or services, said Gupta, of Wadsworth.

“We must reverse the current trend that indicates the vast major of research we’ve conducted in the state does not lead to commercialization,” he said.

Gupta noted it can take up to two years for a university and business to reach an agreement to create a new product — and by that time, the product is obsolete. “That system has to change. Our higher education system needs to get that message,” he said.

“The job that we have to do is not necessarily only invention or innovation. Unless it leads to commercialization or unless it leads to products, we do not achieve what we are trying to achieve.”

Ohio was ranked 20th in the nation in research and development at its 14 research universities, 24 regional university campuses and 23 community colleges. But the regents noted there are barriers to collaborating with businesses, including competition between the schools, slower time frames for accomplishing projects at universities than in the business world, and a lack of incentive for faculty who spend time to patent their research.

Though Ohio ranks seventh in U.S. population, it produces only 5.2 percent of new business start-ups.

“Ohio cannot compete in today’s global economy without addressing these significant deficiencies,” Gupta said.

He said the committee recommends that the state remove barriers — which may include laws — that restrict entrepreneurial activities and technology commercialization, promote greater regional collaboration, nurture an entrepreneurial environment, identity current and future job skills training needs, and track the progress of the efforts.

Addressing a more controversial issue, the report recommends that the tenure process — which makes a faculty member permanent — be reviewed and expanded to recognize entrepreneurial efforts.

This year, Wright State University spent $83 million in research, contracts and grants and is already moving in the direction of many of the recommendations, said Robert Fyffe, vice president for research and graduate studies.

“The overall impact is that we all hope that good planning and good strategic corporation and investments will accelerate the commercialization efforts we’re all undertaking,” he said.

The University of Cincinnati president said the ideas in the report are reflected in the school’s strategic and academic plans. “UC is looking to build on our $418 million research portfolio and commits to working with Gov. Kasich, the Ohio Board of Regents, the OBR Commercialization Task Force, and the legislature on implementation of this important report,” UC President Gregory H. Williams said in a statement to the Dayton Daily News.

Gupta said he promised his 34-member committee that the report will not sit idle. The regents are planning to tour the state, possibly in September, to promote the initiative.

The regents also delayed discussing plans to encourage all colleges and universities to ban smoking on campus until July.

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