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Research universities play a vital role in driving innovation and economic growth, but they face growing challenges in translating academic research into real-world impact.1 While universities have traditionally focused on teaching and fundamental research, there is increasing pressure to convert applied research into commercialized applications. This is especially vital in industrial decarbonization and climate mitigation technology. 

One key barrier is a disconnect between academic research and industry needs. Researchers often have different motives than external stakeholders who look for immediately applicable solutions. This “relevance gap” can make it difficult for academic ideas to gain traction outside the ivory tower.2

Funding is another obstacle. With the exception of life sciences, applied research receives relatively low levels of early investment. The funding disparity is evident as higher-ed researchers struggle to attract industry partners and secure the early resources needed to help bring their innovations to market.  

Systemic institutional factors and academic culture also play a role. Higher-ed’s traditional reward structure often prioritizes publications in prestigious journals over the pursuit of commercialization.3 Universities’ decentralized, discipline-specific nature can hinder internal and external collaboration. Both types of idea interchange are crucial for translating research into innovative solutions.2

Despite these challenges, there are signs of progress. Some universities are experimenting with new models to align academic incentives with societal needs, such as rewarding faculty for entrepreneurial activities or creating dedicated technology transfer offices.1 These approaches have limitations that can use an outside push, so increased collaboration between universities, industry, and government can also help bridge the relevance gap and accelerate the translation of research into practice.3

Ultimately, realizing the full potential of academic research to drive innovation will require a multifaceted approach. By addressing structural, cultural, and resource-related barriers, universities can position themselves as vital knowledge creation and application hubs, benefiting professors, students, and the broader community.  Perhaps one of PGC’s favorite postulates expressed by Herbert Spencer will be realized.  “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”


(1) Tulley, C. Helping Faculty Increase Their Research Impact. Inside Higher Ed.

(2) Ion, G.; Iucu, R. Does Research Influence Educational Policy? The Perspective of Researchers and Policy-Makers in Romania. In The European Higher Education Area: Between Critical Reflections and Future Policies; Curaj, A., Matei, L., Pricopie, R., Salmi, J., Scott, P., Eds.; Springer International Publishing: Cham, 2015; pp 865–880.

(3) Reymert, I.; Vabø, A.; Borlaug, S. B.; Jungblut, J. Barriers to Attracting the Best Researchers: Perceptions of Academics in Economics and Physics in Three European Countries. High. Educ. 2023, 86 (5), 1173–1193.