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May 23, 2013

The Research Triangle

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Image. Penrose triangle

A blog post by Simon Bradley, Vice-President of EADS

In 2012, Sir Tim Wilson recommended the creation of a new centre based on university and industry collaboration, a place to share best practice across industrial sectors as well as encouraging companies who traditionally do not enter this model, usually smaller to medium size, to see the real value of such collaborations. Overall aims included the gathering and maintaining of a comprehensive repository of good practice, the undertaking of commissioned studies and a place to provide reliable information sources for future substantive reviews on the topic. In 2013, this recommendation was delivered with the opening of the National Centre for Universities & Business (NCUB) – run under the auspices of the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE).

Why is this important to us? For EADS, upstream investment (TRL 1–4) is vital to the success of the group and has enabled us to design and build truly historic products, from the engines on-board the LZ-1 Zeppelin (which flew in 1900), to the world’s first commercial radio broadcast in 1920 or Concorde in 1969 and the Airbus A380 today. Worldwide, we are ranked as the thirtieth largest-spending company worldwide in R&D, at €3.9bn (Rank position from 2012). When the Department for Business Innovation & Skills produced its UK R&D scorecard report, listing the 1,000 top UK and global companies, based upon R&D investment, EADS was ranked number one (including its subsidiaries Airbus, Cassidian, Eurocopter and Astrium) based on foreign-owned (as defined by BIS) R&D investment in the UK.

So what is the problem? Finding the jewels that transfer from ideas into real technology that delivers business benefit is a non-exact science, which requires all parties to understand the value of failure as well as that of success. For every project that delivers there are perhaps five, ten or even 100 that do not. Critical breakthroughs happen in our labs but crucially they also happen in universities, SMEs and other companies – we need to be able to locate, nurture and integrate these breakthrough technologies in a manner that benefits all stakeholders. We need to engender trust relationships so that long terms partnerships can flourish and people are open to sharing their technology. How do we do this?

In Wales we have pioneered the EADS Foundation for Wales, a not-for profit, limited by guarantee company, which has a triangle of stakeholders – industry, academia and government. This foundation encourages anyone with an idea to pitch their technology within a number of grand challenges; these are defined as areas of importance to industry and also to Wales. Each stakeholder contributes, either cash or in-kind resource, and external SMEs, academics and others can apply for funding through a wave process that allows very quick decision making and incremental awards based on results. The key to the success of the Foundation is adopting a trust relationship; all background IP is respected and any new IP created is placed under the ownership of the Foundation. Once a project is ready for exploitation, the IP can then be purchased at an independently valued market rate.

The next stage, for Wales, is to roll out this Foundation model across other sectors, not just aerospace and defence, encouraging other large companies to invest into this model and increase the Welsh SME eco-system, feeding into the supply chains of the major companies and providing a means for smaller companies to work with academia and perform real R&D without using up precious funding.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: Penrose Triangle. Source: (Flickr)
Image. Simon Bradley, EADS, standing next to a DalekSimon Bradley started his career with British Airways before becoming part of the design team for the system architecture behind the secure communications platform at No. 10 Downing Street. After the successful implementation of the system he joined the United Nations. Simon Bradley joined EADS in 2006 and, in 2011, Simon started his latest challenge working for the Global Innovation Network team within the Office of the Chief Technical Officer, Dr Jean Botti. Simon is a visiting Professor at Aberystwyth University(Prifysgol Aberystwyth) in Wales, a member of the Scientific Advisory Council for Wales and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences on systems engineering, homeland security and innovation.

May 16, 2013

Growth Through Technology

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Illustration: The village blogger: an edited version of Albert Anker

A blog post by Simon Nelson, CEO, FutureLearn

A transformation is under way. Across the world, evidence grows of the power of technology to help bring education to the previously unreachable, the unconfident and the socially and economically excluded. The advent of MOOCs, especially since 2012, has brought the university experience into the homes of thousands of new students worldwide. Their ability to create whole new communities of educators and learners, on a scale incomparable with the physical university environment, marks this as more than just the gradual next stage of the digital evolution. In less than a year, edX alone has attracted 800,000 students from 192 countries. And here in the UK, we expect that FutureLearn, which has more than twenty of the UK’s top universities on board, will soon be attracting tens of thousands of students.

Yet it would be wrong to define this growth simply in technological terms. Rather, it is engineers’ appetites to work with visionary academics that ensures this technology delivers the thing great educators have always known to be important – captivating the audience.

But as this transformation takes its grip, challenges are emerging which anyone working in this space needs to consider. Amongst these is the role of the traditional university experience; is that in jeopardy as more and more people use technology to access education anywhere and at anytime? If, as I believe, this change serves to complement rather than replace the conventional, physical, and selective teaching experience by enthusing the next generation of university undergraduates, does it have the necessary staying power to achieve this? The wider digital landscape is blighted with examples of new ventures whose light shone all too briefly. In our world, providers have a lot to deliver if they are to avoid the same fate. Reproducing “lectures online” is unlikely to be enough for increasingly sophisticated online learners.

In light of these challenges, two things must be considered. Firstly, perhaps it is time to change our view of what does, and does not, pass muster in online learning. High quality online environments offer the opportunity for students to accumulate learning that potentially starts them on the road to the achievement of higher qualifications. In my view, this means creating courses and modules that are not only pedagogically sound but engaging and fun. With FutureLearn, learning will come in bite-sized chunks, where every step completed becomes a milestone to be celebrated. It will also be a truly social experience, where learners can gather in small, intimate groups to discuss their studies and find mutual interests and support.

Secondly, in order to make this happen, free online education needs to be something that brings learning in to peoples’ lives, not demands that they step out of their lives to take part. Study must be relevant as well as informative. Only then, will people feel inspired to come back again and again.

These are two of the ideas which are informing our development of FutureLearn and helping us to see the challenges facing our world differently.

The transformative power of technology when applied to education can be in no doubt. It is something that non-academic professions have been harnessing for years. In business, e-learning tools are now commonplace in staff training and assessment programmes. Advances in video production and broadcast software are allowing more organisations to use that format to share knowledge via live and on-demand webinars. And the exponential growth of social media platforms and digital communication vehicles continue to impact on our ability, and willingness, to search for and share knowledge.

Growth is here to stay; the next battle is to ensure that quantity comes with quality.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: Photoillustration based on Albert Anker's 1894 oil on canvas Der Dorfschneider (The Village Tailor). The original is currently displayed at the Kunstmuseum Solothurn, Switzerland. Source: Flickr.


Photograph: Simon Nelson CEO of Future LearnSimon Nelson was an early pioneer in taking media brands and content online. Joining the BBC in 1997, he became Head of Strategy for BBC Radio in 1998. He went on to set up and manage all digital activities for BBC Radio & Music, where he launched its world-leading podcast service in 2005 as well as the Radio Player. He then moved to head up all digital activities for the BBC’s television divisions where he helped launch the iPlayer and built an award winning portfolio of online and cross platform services.

Since leaving the BBC, he has led a number of projects in TV, radio and publishing sectors for companies including Random House, UKTV, Specific Media and New York Public Radio. He currently oversees digital activities for Phaidon Press, a role he will retain whilst joining Futurelearn Ltd as CEO.

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