Industry research partnerships on the rise

Posted: March 15, 2018

Facing the pressures of global competition, companies increasingly connect with research universities in pursuit of product improvement and innovation.


Findings from the NSF Higher Education Research and Development Survey indicate that many of those companies are collaborating with engineers at The Ohio State University. The latest installment of the annual survey ranks Ohio State’s College of Engineering third in industry research expenditures among its peers throughout the U.S., which contributed to the university ranking fourth overall.

Simply put, industry research expenditures are private company-funded projects—ranging from basic science to applied R&D—led by university faculty or staff.

In fiscal year 2016, Ohio State Engineering received $44.1 million in research expenditures from businesses, highly concentrated in automotive, aerospace, energy and defense-related industries. SUNY Polytechnic Institute and MIT ranked ahead of Ohio State, while Georgia Tech and the University of Texas placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

The College of Engineering’s research centers are magnets for companies looking to augment their own R&D staff and capabilities. The Center for Automotive Research, ElectroScience Laboratory, Simulation Innovation and Modeling (SIM) Center and the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence, among others, host collaborating companies regularly. In East Liberty, Ohio, the college-affiliated Transportation Research Center is the preferred testing facility and proving grounds for many of the world’s top automotive and vehicle manufacturers.

“In recent years, we have prioritized establishing and sustaining strong ties to industry,” said College of Engineering Associate Dean for Research Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska. For example, formal project management is now provided by the college’s Office of Research to ensure deadlines are met and deliverables are within budget.

She also pointed to the college’s willingness to take on small projects for companies to “test drive” its capabilities, as well as coaching faculty to participate in the federal government’s SBIR/STTR program for startups and early stage firms.

As proof of this commitment, industry-sponsored research within the college has grown 28 percent just since 2013, while state and federal funding has decreased slightly. Grejner-Brzezinska said fiscal year 2017 figures should continue that trend.

The NSF Higher Education Research and Development Survey is the primary source of information on R&D expenditures at U.S. colleges and universities. The survey collects information on R&D expenditures by field of research and source of funds and also gathers information on types of research and expenses and headcounts of R&D personnel. The survey is an annual census of institutions that expended at least $150,000 in separately accounted for R&D in the fiscal year.

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