Why Industry Needs Universities

Professor Sahajwalla interviewing Dr Watanabe

Despite an annual Research and Development budget of over US$300 million, the multinational materials and chemical giant Hitachi Chemical Co., Ltd says it still needs universities like UNSW.

Delivering the keynote address at the 2012 UNSW Science Industry Forum, Hitachi Chemical’s Dr Itsuo Watanabe, said: “We cannot do everything ourselves, we also need cooperation with universities.”

Dr Watanabe, Hitachi Chemical Executive Officer, said although the company has a significant capacity to undertake its own research and development fostering close relationships with universities has many advantages.

In particular, industry needs access to the novel ideas, innovative discoveries and the deep understanding of scientific processes universities offer, which help companies like Hitachi Chemical modify or improve existing products and processes and get new products on to the market as quickly as possible.

In particular, industry needs access to the novel ideas, innovative discoveries and the deep understanding of scientific processes universities offer, which help companies like Hitachi Chemical modify or improve existing products and processes and new products onto the market as quickly as possible.

“We may, for example, combine our own technology with new things under development at UNSW,” he said.

While on campus at UNSW, the Hitachi Chemical EO considered UNSW research in the areas of nanotechnology for thin films, with potential applications ranging from waterproof skin for medical uses to electronics manufacturing, and new metal oxides for semi conductors.

The Japanese-based multinational - which recorded sales of almost six billion US dollars last year in chemical products such as materials for semi conductors and LCDs, industrial materials and synthetic resins – has also invested in developing promising UNSW students through the UNSW Science Industry Partnership Scholarship program.


Professor Sahajwalla interviewing Dr Rajendram

New UNSW Science industry partner, Neptune Bio-Innovations, a Sydney-based private sector research and development firm, told the Forum that universities have “a very important position in the commercial supply chain”.

Managing Director, Dr Vijaya Rajendram, said; “Collaboration brings about a cultural change in which public and private sector researchers can interact comfortably and call each other partners.

“From a business point of view universities have a product to offer us, they are a very important supplier of knowledge and we need that product.”

Neptune Bio-Innovations, which develops specialized solutions for the food industry such as low salt and low fat natural alternatives and low calorie sweeteners, employs several UNSW graduates. Dr Rajendram wants to broaden opportunities for researchers to understand private sector needs by appointing academics to corporate decisions making bodies, such as their own scientific advisory board.

He said in his initial efforts to contact major Australian universities it was only UNSW which responded immediately.

The annual UNSW Science Industry Forum brings together industry, business and public sector organisations and UNSW researchers to explore further collaboration.

UNSW Science Dean, Professor Merlin Crossley, said; “At UNSW engaging with industry isn’t an academic theory, it is something we do – and we are always looking for new ways to do more”.

“The university/industry relationship works both ways. With our sophisticated research facilities our staff and students can, for example, provide specialist expertise to solve key problems for industry.

“Our students benefit from the opportunity to gain relevant work experience with our active industry partners and our partners benefit from the opportunity to train and recruit our top students.”

One major aspect of the Forum is simply “listening to industry”, said UNSW Science Associate Dean (Strategic Industry Relations), Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla.

“We hear directly from key industry partners; this gives everyone from senior researchers to up and coming students a chance to find out how we can break down the silos between academia and the real world applications of the many great ideas and discoveries coming out of university sector.”

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