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Guest lecture

University - Industry Relations for Research

Event series: 

Professor Charles Kruger

Stanford University


Prof. Kruger is the Vice-Provost and Dean of Research and Graduate Policy at Stanford University. He spoke about technology transfer and university-industry relations, specifically in the context of Stanford. (The ability to generalise lessons from Stanford's experience was not really addressed.)

Prof. Kruger's overriding theme was the importance of talented people and co-operation for successful industry-university relations. He suggests that many preconceptions of how Stanford works:

  • overlook the importance of technology transfer through people, especially graduate students; and
  • may underestimate the value of more informal co-operation between industry and university, in particular a culture of sharing and reciprocity.


Stanford has gone from being a University primarily focused on undergraduate education, to a situation where the numbers of undergraduate and graduate students are about equal (currently more graduate students than undergraduate). Also, while numbers of students and faculty have been relatively stable, the volume of sponsored research being undertaken continues to increase rapidly. Stanford's departmental rankings have also improved over time. [see slides for more detail.]


Stanford is currently organised into 7 schools, but with 8 independent research laboratories, centres and institutes, ranging from humanities, to economics, to applied science. These research centres account for approximately $100 million of research funding (out of a total of about $320 million). Unlike the schools, they are not permanent entities but appear to be somewhat more ad hoc creations.

Although there is obviously a formal governance/management hierarchy, Kruger argues that research at Stanford is primarily driven from the bottom up, by faculty and graduate students, and that it is the calibre of these individuals that is vital to it's success, more that the formal policies and mechanisms established by management.

Nonetheless, in addition to policies dealing with conflicts of interest and scientific misconduct, Stanford also places significant emphasis on:

  • openness in research (any research they are involved in must be able to be published, with few exceptions; and though they do aim to generate income through technology transfer, Kruger argues that the overriding objective is "to promote the transfer of Stanford technology for society's use"); and
  • faculty presence on campus (faculty may spend no more than 1 day per week on consulting work, and are also limited in the amount of pro bono work they can undertake).

The relationship with industry is more complex and subtle than is often assumed. Only 10% of their research funding is directly sponsored, with 85% coming from government. Key components include:

  • the affiliates programme: focusing on what Kruger calls "facilitated access" for industry to Stanford research, for which the University receives some income by way of gifts;
  • interdisciplinary research centres
  • gifts (mostly from individuals)
  • sponsored research
  • start-ups (typically by graduate students)
Stanford and Silicon Valley

Kruger attributes the success of Silicon Valley to:

  • good ideas (obviously);
  •  "cultural" factors, particularly an entrepreneurial spirit, and a culture of openness and sharing;
  • the involvement of venture capital (and the flipside of this: the fact that Stanford itself did not attempt to make money out of it, something that Kruger argues Universities are not well-suited to - there were no incubators, no attempts to control intellectual property, and no direct investment by the University; nonetheless, he believes that Stanford has benefited financially from this approach through gifts and endowments);
  • outstanding graduate students.


Future challenges for Stanford include:

  • the balance between quality and quantity of research (Kruger favours the former);
  • opportunities for interdisciplinary research;
  • the role of undergraduates in a research university (Kruger argues that they are being short-changed if they aren't included); and
  • potential for global collaborations.
Last updated: 
Monday, 15 October 2007