The Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, in consultation with university and industry representatives, recently proposed a new government-industry collaborative venture: a High Performance Computing and Communications Program. The program would combine the efforts of federal agencies, universities, and U.S. businesses to extend the U.S. leadership in advanced computing and networking. It also would be targeted at accelerating the development and application of technologies for commercial, educational, and environmental uses.

Universities, which conduct about half of all basic research in the United States, have become increasingly involved in collaborative R&D activities. One-to-one relationships between faculty members and industry scientists are the most common form of these efforts. During the 1980s, there was also an increase in more complex, formal, university-based R&D partnerships with industry. The National Science Foundation has also sponsored university-based R&D centers (the Engineering Research Centers), which serve as focal points for collaborative projects between academia and industry.

Promise and Outlook for Consortia

In the changing environment for technological and economic competition, consortia may complement other methods of strengthening U.S.-industry research and development. For private firms, the advantages of collaboration include reducing the risk and costs of R&D work, eliminating duplication of effort, leveraging internal resources, and gaining access to technology and expertise not available in-house.18 Collaborative R&D projects are often centered on long-term, applied research. Several workshop speakers suggested that collaborative projects should focus on research horizons of two to seven years, the shorter time frame for industrial R&D, and the longer for basic research.

Consortia have been proposed as a mechanism to link public and private sector activities for promoting national economic interests. To date, however, most R&D consortia should be viewed as experimental, participants noted. Their value as strategic tools for altering the dynamics of industrial development and technological advance is unclear. Proprietary research conducted in industrial laboratories remains the primary focus of industrial R&D activities in the United States and most other nations. In Japan, for example, most research is performed within individual firms, and of the one-third of projects classified as collaborative R&D, most involve firms that do not compete in the same product markets.19

Several workshop participants noted that consortia face many of the same pressures and obstacles that confront in-house research programs. They pointed out, for example, that collaborative ventures must produce quick

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement