Scanning Retrospective, No. 8

Foresight Snippets – No. 8

[Originally published] 15 March 2001

  • Research in the Business World
  • Cashing In on the Future
  • Privatising the University — the New Tragedy of the Commons

Research in the Business World

A recent article suggests that the hitherto poles-apart cultures of academia and business, at least as far as life sciences research is concerned, have been growing closer — “the gap between them is shrinking,” it says, and “there are more similarities than some might think.” This has been driven in part by a shift away from university-based research into the private sector, and also by joint-venture projects where universities want to earn revenue from conducting applied research, paid for by industry. This represents one element of moving to a more entrepreneurial stance for a university. The article examines some of the forces influencing scientists to move out of academia and into industry. An understanding of these forces is important if conditions are to be created within universities to keep the scientists, and the potential income their discoveries may represent, in the university.

Source: The Scientist, v14, n20, p25 (2000)

Cashing In on the Future

Some of the revenue generated by entrepreneurial activity by a university could come from direct sales of a new product, while some could come from the royalties. Some individuals and organisations (including universities) are finding ways of turning royalty streams into money now, rather than waiting for the money to trickle in over a number of years. The basic idea is that an entity which owns a royalty stream sells this stream to a so-called “royalty acquisition” company in exchange for an amount deemed reasonable by both parties. By buying the royalty stream, the royalty acquisition company may pay a discounted price to the seller, but in exchange, the company acquires the risks — along with the potential profits. The result: The seller gets their money now (to use in infrastructure projects, for example), while the royalty acquisition company gets whatever’s coming in the future (whether profit or loss).

Source: The Scientist, v14, n20, p26 (2000)

Privatising the University — the New Tragedy of the Commons

Foresight work involves, in part, scanning widely to see what “weak signals” may be coming from the future. One small aspect of this scanning is the practice of looking at present trends. A key element of reading trends is also reading the associated “counter-trends” — that is, the trends which “go against” these trends — and listening to dissenting voices. Paying attention to counter-trends and dissenting voices also stops us from becoming over-confident that these trends will continue unchanged into the future. The uncritical extrapolation of the present into the future is sometimes known as “the myth of the unbroken line.” Therefore, here is a link to an article by a dissenting voice, highlighting some problems associated with university research and development being funded from private sources. He argues that the public, rather than corporations or individual scientists or even secretive governments, should own the results, so he calls for a return to largely public funding.

Source: Science v290, n5497, pp1701-2 (2000)


Foresight Snippets are interesting, intriguing or weird things we find during our strategic scanning which may or may not have direct obvious relevance to Swinburne, but which do provide signals about what the future might be like. Brought to you by the Foresight & Planning Unit.

An archive of the Foresight Snippets and a list of Frequently Asked Questions are available at [deleted].

Copyright © 2001 FPU and Swinburne University of Technology.
Feedback is welcome. Send feedback to [deleted].

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

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