The Applied Research landscape of the UK
As we approach the launch of the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, it is well worth reflecting on the world of technology research that we are heading out to meet! This is a world of high ambition, where we need to make our mark, make a difference, shape the future.
The UK has a long history of fundamental research; research that is conducted for its own sake; shining light on the unknown. This shifted in the mid-eighties with a major consolidation and change to the way public funding supported university research. Many universities, or individual departments within them, began actively seeking industry funding and applying their research to industry challenges. Many universities did this reluctantly; there was a feeling that they were selling out in the face of necessity, despite the fact that at times of national emergency academic expertise had underpinned efforts to harness technological advances to protect the nation.
In recent years though, with the drive towards demonstrating the impact of research and its benefits for society, industry and the economy, attitudes have changed significantly and many academic centres now embrace applied research and the benefits it brings to industry and the UK economy.
Arguably the most successful and longest established model for industrial and academic partnership is the Fraunhofer model, established in Germany some 50 years ago. The principles of Fraunhofer are demand-driven research combined with academic excellence. Fraunhofer now employs 24,000 people in 67 institutions.
This model was considered in 2 UK studies carried out in 2008 (Herman Hauser) and 2010 (James Dyson) and both reached similar conclusions on the need to set up well-funded institutions in the UK to harness both academic and industrial expertise. These are now known as the ‘Catapults’.
There are 13 Catapults in the UK ranging from High Value Manufacturing to Transport Systems; other examples include Medicine Discovery and Future Cities. These Catapults have been located where the expertise resides and are dispersed across the country. So for example, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult has an Advanced Forming Research Centre in Glasgow; a National Composites Centre in Bristol and an Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield as well as a Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry. At the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, we have visited a number of these and adopted a lot of the processes and learnings from them.
In Scotland, the Innovation Centres were established around 2012 at a similar time to the Catapults being established across the UK. There are eight Innovation Centres based on themes brought from industry and very much driven by demand from industry. Unlike the Catapults, they are normally based in the universities, but some have established their own physical footprint, beyond the administrative centre. Research is driven by industry demand with funding and support from the Scottish Government coming through the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Priorities are identified by industry and research expertise is secured often through specific calls for proposals from individual Innovation Centres such as Oil & Gas Innovation Centre in Aberdeen.
The Oil & Gas Technology Centre reflects the learnings from each of these initiatives and claims its own space in the landscape with Solution Centres, focused upon challenges provided by industry and developing local Centres of Excellence. Uniquely, we will provide a physical space for the Technology Accelerator Programme, which will support oil and gas technology innovation within small, growing businesses. Finally, we are developing the Innovation Hub, an inspirational “open innovation” where people facing technical challenges in oil and gas can meet people with innovative new technologies that may provide radical solutions.
Across all these activities, our aim is to be the innovation partner for the oil and gas industry helping to unlock the full potential of the UK North Sea.