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      From Plinth to Pillar

      Three or four decades ago it was universally acknowledged that the main role of universities was to educate students and conduct research.

      17 Feb 2022 Dr Phil Clare & Professor Yvonne Barnett

      Three or four decades ago it was universally acknowledged that the main role of universities was to educate students and conduct research. The ‘D’ part of R&D was firmly the domain of business and industry, and the job of taking research into society, or to the market, was largely left to others. Of course, there were always enthusiasts who worked with businesses, or even founded their own, but they were few and far between.  

      However, around that time there was talk of a “third mission”: that universities should invest time and energy in taking the ideas they generated and using them to make a difference. Academics who wanted to see their ideas fully realised increasingly recognised that they had to put in effort to take them forward and they called on universities for support. Research contracting support services, business engagement teams and technology transfer offices were created, professional staff with commercial and legal experience were hired, and the transformation of the role of universities gathered pace.

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