A paper prepared as background to the debate on the Foresight Programme held at the Partnership in Polymers Conference, Churchill College Cambridge, October 1996.
Industry and Academy - a Faustian Contract?
David Packham and Mary Tasker
(University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, Somerset.)
This paper critically examines the implications that partnership between universities and industry has for the progress of science and for universities and industry itself. The "Technology Foresight Programme" is simply one manifestation of an established trend that has been accelerating in the past decade. There is already much evidence of the effects that industrial collaboration can have on university research. Universities have entered into contracts which give the industrial partner a veto over publication. University researchers, including higher degree candidates, have undertaken not to discuss their work with their academic colleagues, masters' and doctors' theses have been kept secret for years after the degrees were awarded. There are examples among scientific publications of the withholding of details essential to a repetition or critical assessment of the work presented. It is argued that of its nature science demands open discussion and unfettered publication. The problems described do not arise as a result of some careless drafting or rash agreement to inadequately considered clauses in research contracts, but from a fundamental incompatability between the aims and values of a university on one hand, and of industry in contemporary Western capitalism on the other. Thus there is an unavoidable tension implicit in research collaboration between industry and academy. Unless this is explicitly recognised the damage both to universities and, in the long term, to industry will be aggravated. The paper concludes by considering what might be done to minimalise the potential conflict inherent in such collaboration. It will draw attention to American experience and to recent proposals put forward in the United Kingdom.
From a superficial glance at this paper the reader might get the impression that it constitutes an "attack" on industry. We thought it therefore desirable to spell out the background from which it has been written.
The University of Bath is a technological university founded in the 1960s at a time when the "need" to strengthen links between universities and industry and commerce was very much a topic of the day. This is reflected in paragraph 2 of the Charter of the University which states
"The objects of the University shall be to advance learning and knowledge by teaching and research .......in close association with industry and commerce"
The university prides itself on the high proportion of its first degree courses which involve a year of industrial training and on its record of research collaboration with industry and commerce. On the personal level, one of us (D.E.P.) is in an applied science department, and has worked for many years on research contracts in collaboration with British and foreign industrial companies.
Development of university collaboration with industry
For more than a decade most universities, beset by financial problems, have striven vigorously to raise more and more income from industry and commerce. Links between industry and higher education have multiplied remarkably. The percentage of university recurrent income from research contracts with business more than doubled between 1982/83 and 1988/1989 amounting to £91 million or 2.9% of the total in the latter year. Gareth Williams and Cari Loder believe that "the total monetary value of the contributions of industry and commerce to 'Higher Education PLC' in 1990/1991 is likely to be of the order of £300 million", around 6 to 7% of universities' annual income. This figure includes contract research, various forms of teaching, donations and student sponsorship [THES 28.6.91]. The D.T.I. 1995 Survey of Industry-University Research Links gives details of a wide range of different types of collaboration including university companies and industrial support services as well as straightforward research.
Research sponsorship. A consequence of this move to seek external finance is that much of the traditional intra-mural research aimed at publication and higher degrees is now sponsored directly by industry and by national and local government departments. In addition to this, the Research Councils, which are government bodies charged with the responsibility for sustaining fundamental research in higher education, have introduced more and more schemes aimed at bringing university and industrial into closer collaboration. Examples include the old Science and Engineering Research Council's (SERC) schemes for C.A.S.E. research studentships for Co-operative Research Grants, for L.I.N.K. grants and for "teaching companies". More recent developments in this direction include the R.O.P.A. scheme where the academic applicant for a grant has to have substantial cash support from industry [EPSRC 1996a] and the introduction of industrial C.A.S.E. quota studentships where the Ph.D. research studentship is in the gift of industry not a university department. [BBSRC n.d.; EPSRC 1996b]. These trends represent a significant application of fundamental research funds to research associated with industry.
Technology Foresight Programme. The 1993 White Paper Realising our potential: a strategy for science, engineering and technology [White Paper 1993] placed great emphasis on wealth creation as a primary object of policy. It was quite candid in its insistence that"scientific excellence" should no longer be the most significant criterion for judging research proposals. Both the research councils and the university funding councils must take serious account of "relevance to industry and other users" [ibid. § 3.12, 3.13] by placing "special emphasis on meeting the needs of users of its research and training outputs", as it is so eloquently expressed. The White Paper initiated the technology Foresight Programme [ibid. § 2.30] in which scientists and engineers from government, industry and the universities tried to identify areas of research likely to have greatest benefit for the country's economic performance and quality of life. In future the research councils' strategic decisions on their research portfolios will be made in the light of the results of the Foresight Programme [ibid. § 3.33]. Thus more resources will be devoted to "greater academic/industrial cooperation" by the university funding councils and the research councils [ibid. § 3.9; Anon. 1994].
Universities, science and industry
What are the consequences of these developments? Before answering this directly, let us consider some basic questions about the purposes of universities and of industry and about their underlying values.
Values. At one time many people considered that the application of reason, freed from external constraints, would lead to the creation of "a universal civilisation undergirded by a shared, rational morality" [Gray 1991; v. also MacIntyre 1988, p.6; MacIntyre 1990, p.225] This end has never been achieved on a practical level: "questions of truth in morality....have become matter for private allegiances" [MacIntyre 1990, p. 217, cf. MacIntyre 1988, p.3].
Recognition of this had led Alasdair MacIntyre to regard contradictions between moral or value positions not as conflicts between the rational and irrational, but between the rationalities of different traditions [MacIntyre 1988, p.5]. Similarly, Isaiah Berlin agrees that value-conflicts cannot be resolved by recourse to higher reason because the values at stake are incommensurable [Gray 1991].
These considerations are not esoteric, but fundamental to our discussion of industry and higher education. In any dialogue between the two it is essential to grapple with any value conflict, and to ensure that the choices that have to be made are brought out, and not suppressed either by ambiguity of language or by external pressures. Let us consider the values which underpin in turn industry and science and universities.
Values of industry The limits of the social responsibility of an industrial corporation are largely those stated thirty years ago by Milton Friedman: "to make as much money for their stockholders as possible" [Friedman 1962], The values of industry are associated with unlimited growth, involving the production more goods, the exploitation of more raw materials and the penetration of more markets with minimal constraints on competition. Now in the 1990's such values come with a "green" overlay. In the West these values have become hegemonic and accepted as the "normal" way of doing things. Thus the concept "industry" was for many years unproblematic, with the consequence that relatively few people questioned its values and its apparent need for aggressive advertising and continuous growth.
Yet these capitalist values are in no sense immutable or inevitable. They can be recognised historically as a social artefact: representing the coming to fruition of the particular values which underpinned the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th century. During other periods of human existence and in other cultures today, these values did not and do not prevail.
Values of Science. What then are the traditional values of Science? This is not the place for an exhaustive exposition, but most scientists would consider the following to be characteristic of the values to which science aspires:
meticulous respect for evidence;
candid admission of mistake or error;
disinterested pursuit of "truth";
moral and intellectual independence of all political authority and economic power.
Vital to this conception of science is openness to public scrutiny of one's peers. Thus informal discussions with colleagues, both intra- and inter-murally, full disclosure of experimental procedures and results, orally at conferences and in the literature, are the indisputable norms of scientific activity. Indeed there is a serious sense in which experimental results and their interpretation do not become "science" until they have survived this public exposure.
We have described these as the traditional values of science, and they will surely be widely recognised as such. This does not mean that they are immutable. Science is socially constructed, and as such, is liable to change as the society around it changes [cf. Ziman 1996]
Values of the University. These traditional scientific values resonate strongly with the traditional values of the university. These might be partly encapsulated in phrases such as
open, unimpeded and objective in the pursuit of ideas;
the exchange of ideas openly and without deceit;
full and wide dissemination through teaching and written publication of the results of scholarly enquiry;
freedom to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions;
moral and intellectual independence of all political authority and economic power.
[Giametti 1982; Education Reform Act 1988; Caputo 1988]
These values, too, are not immutable, indeed they are presently the subject of a sustained and multifaceted assault. One of the exciting contemporary challenges for those of us in universities is to develop these values best to serve the needs of society in the next century.[Tasker & Packham 1993 & 1994; Packham 1996]
Incommensurable values. A sharp contrast can be seen between the values of industry and those of science and of universities. In drawing out this contrast, we emphasise that it is not a matter of right and wrong, but of incommensurability. One analysis of some of these questions has been given in a thoughtful paper by John McMurtry of the Philosophy Department of Guelph University. He has analysed the respective goals, motivations, methods and standards of excellence of education and the market and concludes that the "differences between the two are incompatible and incommensurable" [McMurtry 1991]. Some of his points are summarised in the table, but they do not do justice to the depth of his original paper.
Table Contradictions between the market and education [McMurtry]
MARKET MODEL EDUCATION MODEL GOAL To maximise private To advance and money profits disseminate shared knowledge MOTIVATION To satisfy the wants of To develop the whosoever has the money understanding of all to purchase the goods who seek to learn that are wanted METHOD To buy or sell the Never to sell the goods goods it has to offer it has to offer, but to to anyone for whatever require of all who price one can get would have it that they fulfill its requirements independently STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE (i) How well a product (i) How inclusive is is made to sell against the range of its competitors; possibility that is (ii) how problem free comprehended; the product is and (ii) how deep and broad remains for its buyer the problems are to the one who has it LOGICS OF FREEDOM No bounds to what one No bounds to what one is able to buy from is able to learn for others oneself
Collaboration: sponsored research.
There are many obvious advantages to a university of industrial collaboration: the stimulus of different problems and different perspectives, access to otherwise inaccessible research environments, industrial plant, schools, hospitals , government departments etc. and, of course resources and cash.
There are, however, serious problems. Recognition of these seems to be much greater in North America. Irwin Feller of Pennsylvania State University addressed the Royal Society in 1991 on "Lessons from the US experience". He identified a number of problems:
"The university is converted into a market-driven institution where fields of knowledge are supported in terms of perceived social utility, defined at a point in time by the expected profitability of those firms ....willing to enter into research contracts."
[Feller 1991, emphasis added]
He drew attention to other difficulties including, effects on direction of academic research agenda and on the "prototypical norms of science", conflicts of interest and erosion of the credibility of faculty as disinterested experts.
He quoted "Universities and the Future of America" by Derek Bok, until recently President of Harvard:
"Universities are constantly pressed to accept questionable arrangements with industry, [which may include] provisions prohibiting academic scientists funded by one company from collaborating with investigators funded by another......A few institutions have even agreed to clauses that require them to keep faculty members from speaking about their commercially funded research at academic meetings without first submitting their remarks to their industry sponsors."
The New England Journal of Medicine is one of the most highly regarded publications in its field. Its editor, Arnold Relman, has been concerned about the conflict of interest & curruption of integrity which can result from academics" having financial interests in the selling of their discoveries:
"[Researchers] have an obligation to make unbiased professional judgements, uninfluenced by personal financial interests. [But] the commercial spirit taken such a firm hold on the medical research community [that they] are acquiring financial interests.....[which] erode scientific objectivity and engender the loss of public trust....."
[Relman 1989, emphasis added]
The situation in Britain
When Feller addressed the Royal Society, the THES report suggested that British scientists were less sensitive to these issues than their American colleagues. Do these problems occur here? Because of limited space we want to place most emphasis on examples taken, not from contracts entirely funded by industry where problems would be expected to be most acute, but from those substantially paid for by public money.
There are now many schemes which encourage joint work between industry and universities in which substantial research council resources are involved. There is much that is healthy in this, but it can lead to proposals for collaborative work which, despite a small industrial input, gives an industrial partner the right of veto over publication. Contract terms can arise requiring those involved in the research to "keep secret all information and results relating to or arising from the project" and giving the company "the right to limit publication in areas where the information is commercially significant". In SERC cooperative awards publication of the findings is expected, but the investigator has to obtain permission of industrial partner. Similarly LINK projects give discretion over publication "to the partners".
Applicants for research grants from the physical science research council are routinely asked whether their application might be also considered by the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence sponsors an enormous amount of university research and lays claim to ownership of the results. It presently requires its collaborators, including academic staff and research students to agree
"to consult with the Secretary of State for Defence before making any unrestricted disclosure of the results including any lecture, demonstration, publication or submission of a thesis"
[MoD 1991, emphasis added]
In principle, this could render liable to legal action a Ph.D. student who answered questions at an intra-mural colloquium or discussed a problem with a fellow-student on the next bench.
Most universities require copies of higher degree theses to be placed in the library as a demonstration of their commitment to the wide dissemination of new ideas. One of us recently requested sight of a M.Sc. thesis from well-established university, and was told
"We don't let out M.Sc. reports if the work is sponsored without permission of the sponsors. [Name of company] are very tight - I did publish something at a conference in April but it had to go to their head office in Brussels for clearance. I could not let you see a copy of the M.Sc. report without asking them."
Indeed there is evidence from library catalogues that access to an increasing proportion of higher degree theses is restricted for an increasing number of years [Tasker & Packham 1993]
There is plenty of evidence that contracts are becoming more restrictive. It could be that in practice the contracts are being interpreted liberally and that there is little actual restriction on publication, and little sign of a clash of values between academics and external sponsors. The evidence is not entirely reassuring.
Clare Wenger has edited a volume which examined the relationship between research workers and external sponsors. In it there is much evidence of sponsors' forbidding work in certain areas and of the suppression of findings. In this atmosphere there is a tendency for academics to adopt self censorship: "Researchers are cautious about the publication of adverse findings because of the need for continued financial support" [Wenger 1987]
The broader consequences for society
Universities have traditionally played an important rôle in society as providers of impartial expertise which is invaluable in helping to clarify controversial issues. As this impartiality becomes corrupted, society as a whole loses.
Those who followed the gathering storm of the B.S.E. crisis will have seen in action several of the factors described above. Secrecy of "scientific" meetings, partial publication of research results, the implied threat to future research funding and the vilification of critics were all features of the ministerial campaign of mendacity and misinformation which eventually led to a serious aggravation of the crisis with adverse effects for the beef industry, and, it may possibly prove, for public health.
A clear example of the dire consequences for the public of ignoring or glossing over, rather than making explicit, the incommensuriblity between the values of industry and science has recently received detailed exposition. It concerns campaign of the tobacco companies, Brown and Williamson and BAT, to mislead the public over the risks associated with smoking [Glantz, S.A. 1996.]
The tobacco industry kept secret its own findings, dating from the early 1960's, that nicotine was addictive and that smoking probably caused cancer. To protect its commercial interests it funded special "public science" contracts with universities in Britain as well as in the U.S.A. These were designed to research areas where evidence might be found which showed tobacco in a better light and which could then be used to create controversy over "alleged" dangers of smoking. The source of funding for this research were not disclosed.
When eventually (in 1994) the details of this campaign got out, the tobacco industry used all the weapons available to a powerful industry to try to suppress their publication. They included attempting to stop a university library from holding the documents in stock, seeking to obtain from the library a list of all the readers who had consulted the documents and using party political influence in an endeavour to cut off the research funds of the academic involved. So great was the power of the industry that many reputable publishers, including Oxford University Press, would not publish the account written of the campaign.
It is important to recognise in terms of the morality of the market that the action of BAT was unobjectionable. It was pursuing the logic of "making as much money for [its] stockholders as possible" by selling more goods and penetrating more markets. Its campaign was simply a means, we guess a legal one, towards this end. The industry would no doubt argue that it is for society as a whole, e.g. through government regulation, to make what laws are considered appropriate for its well-being. We would endorse the comment of Stanton Glantz that his research and publication demonstrate "the important role that universities play in society".
A possible framework for collaboration?
If both the benefits and problems associated with collaboration between universities and industry are recognised, it should be possible to construct a framework for cooperation which maximised the mutual benefit and limited the potential for damage. Drawing on the experience of Yale, Harvard and other American institutions, such a framework might include such features as
the university not accepting restriction, inhibition or infringement on academics' free inquiry or capacity orally to communicate results of research;
no restriction on written publication save the most minor delay to allow for patenting;
the university only agreeing to arrangements for sponsored research from a sector of society which is compatible with its norms and mission;
the university not agreeing to any arrangement which will impair the environment of openness and free communication of ideas;
all authors of publications acknowledge all funding sources and any direct business associations e.g. employment by a corporation that has financial interests in the work being reported;
academic staff report to their university all commitments to organisations with which they are involved in professional work.
[Giamatti 1982; Relman 1984; cf. Elliott 1989]
In the U.K. the CVCP has recently published a paper on sponsored research which suggests that it has [at last] recognised the seriousness of the problem for universities. It recommends:
"under no circumstances should the university allow the sponsor the right to delay publication for an unrestricted period of time."
We are not aware that either the C.V.C.P. recommendation or the U.S. codes of practice are having much impact on the situation here. In the present financial climate it is unrealistic to expect the isolated academic to make a stand, or perhaps even a single university. No moves in this direction are likely to come from government agencies, as most of them have been adding inceasingly restrictive clauses to their own research contracts [FitzGibbon 1991; Official Report 1988; Pettigrew 1993; Pettigrew and Norris 1993] Perhaps the academic members of the committees of research councils should urge such proposals apply to research council work.
We have argued that the values of industry and of science and universities are incommensurable. This incommensurability should be a source of tension in any collaborative work. It is important that it should be acknowledged on both sides and that the different aspirations should be respected in the arrangements made for working together.
Just as it would be fatal for an industrial company to adopt the values of universities, so universities' accommodation to the values of the market must destroy any real education:
"the economic determination of education must entail ex hypothesi the systematic negation of educational goals and standards"
Amy Gutmann, an American political philosopher, draws attention to the the contrast between the "quantified values of the market" and the "non-quantifiable values of intellectual excellence and integrity, and the supporting moral principles of non-repression and non-discrimination" . She argues that a university serves society well by "appreciating, rather than abolishing, the discrepancies between intellectual standards and market practices, since such discrepancies often signal a moral failure of the market rather than an intellectual failure of the university".
[Gutmann 1987, emphasis added]
Derek Bok  is surely right when he places on academic staff the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of academic values which are ultimately for the benefit of the society that sustains us:
"the University must not endanger its primary commitment to learning and discovery for these are the functions that ultimately justify its existence and produce the greatest benefits to the community....only if the faculty care deeply enough about the university can we hope to contribute to the useful application of knowledge without eventually compromising our essential academic values."
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