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Navigating Future Investments: Insights from UIDP’s Annual Survey

August 14, 2023 — As the 2023-2024 academic year approaches, new opportunities to engage for university-industry research are top of mind. But there’s also apprehension that rising inflation or other economic factors could put a chill on collaborative projects. What’s the forecast for research partnerships in the coming year?

For the past three years, UIDP has done a market scan of its industry members to gather insight into their organizations’ plans for academic research funding and how they view the coming year. Although it’s not a scientific survey, we’re pleased to see that among companies that work the most with academic researchers, the next year looks promising.

Survey insights

Since the survey began at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, one would expect the longitudinal data to demonstrate changing viewpoints over time. From a top-line perspective, survey participants consistently see industry investment at universities remaining fairly stable. This year, 50% of respondents chose “stable” rather than “increasing” or “declining.” However, there may be a few clouds on the horizon, as only 16% indicated a forecast for increasing investment this year, while 33% anticipate a moderate decrease in industry investment.

Another question asked participants how likely they would be to pursue new partnerships over the next 12 months. The chart below illustrates a gradual shift toward “more likely” as the years progress. That’s a critical indicator because, when research budgets tighten, companies tend to do most of their work with well-known strategic partners. For the first time since the survey began, no respondents indicated that they would be entirely unlikely to pursue new partnerships this year (but there was clear migration to the “somewhat likely” column).

Despite the openness to new partners, most participants (58%) indicated that their total number of partners would remain the same over the next academic year. The proportion of those who said they would have more partnerships dropped to 41% (compared to 53% of respondents last year).

Money matters

UIDP also asked about academic engagement budgets for the coming year. Compared to last year’s numbers, similar percentages of respondents indicated their budgets would stay the same (63% and 67%, respectively), but there was a jump from those who answered that their budget would decrease moderately, from 5% in 2022 to 17% this year. Similarly, the proportion of respondents who indicated that their budget would increase went from 32% last year to just 16% this year.

Why the lower expectations? One reason could be the economy overall; half of the survey respondents indicated that inflation would have a moderate impact on their budgets this year and that, while they are increasing investments accordingly, they will stick to the same number of partners for this year. However, 41% of survey participants said that inflation would have no impact on their organization’s investments.

These results indicate that the research funding landscape remains positive, but not quite as optimistic as last year. Despite economic concerns, companies value their academic partnerships and forecast stability over growth. Myriad factors contribute to academic engagement budgets, including economic trends, government research policy changes, technological advancements, and more. UIDP is dedicated to listening to member concerns and responding with resources to address factors affecting the research landscape through town halls, webinars, and project-focused publications. See the full survey report.

Why it matters

While it’s encouraging that companies plan to pursue new academic partnerships, academic institutions cannot ignore the effects of inflation, layoffs, and other factors on external engagement budgets. Smart companies invest in research in difficult times; during the pandemic, wheels turned at record pace to produce new products and services, despite the challenges. To mitigate risks, it’s critical to be proactive. Strengthening U-I partnerships can help to reduce the impact of funding uncertainties. Focusing efforts on being indispensable as a partner is a clear path to sustain existing partnerships while laying the foundation for new ones. That’s a strategy to beat financial challenges when they come.

We want to hear from you. What’s on the horizon for your organization this coming academic year? Let us know on our LinkedIn profile.

The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of our members or representatives. We welcome your comments on our LinkedIn profile.