Public-private cooperation

In order to develop knowledge and apply this knowledge for purposes of product development, universities and the private sector need one another. Therefore, it only makes sense that universities and companies cooperate closely. Of course, this cooperation cannot interfere with the independent nature of scientific research. At times, scientific researchers and companies may have opposing interests: e.g. whereas a researcher may want to publish results as soon as possible, a company may want to wait in order to have more time for product development. Because of this inherent possibility of conflicting interests, universities and companies are bound by numerous guidelines in their cooperation. These guidelines have been agreed upon by the universities and are implemented at each university.


Codes of conduct

Within several codes of conduct, universities have created guidelines for public-private cooperation. In the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Academic Practice, universities have included the guideline that even if scientific researchers are conducting research that was commissioned by a private enterprise, they should still be able to conduct the research independently. This means that the researcher can publish the results (possibly after an agreed upon time) and that the company does not influence the results. Additionally, the research should be scientifically relevant, not only relevant to the company.

Regarding more specific parts of public-private cooperation, universities have made separate agreements. The Set of Guidelines Dealing with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) offers guidance on how academic start-ups should deal with intellectual property rights. The guideline on professors’ ancillary activities includes an agreement on how universities deal with said activities. Professors request permission to take up an ancillary activity, which is then added to the professor’s personal page for transparency purposes.

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences also offers guidelines on working in public-private cooperation. For example, they recommend using the Declaration of Scientific Independence when applicable, as well as a code of conduct relating to conflicts of interest (only in Dutch).

Notities Helderheid

In the so-called notities Helderheid, the government offers further explanation of the law regarding spending public funds. This includes rules for funding that apply to public-private cooperation. In this context, too, the main criterion is that activities contribute to the quality of education or research.

Guidelines from the Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO)

Each university employs staff that aid scientific researchers in transferring the knowledge from their research to a wider public: they are called knowledge transfer officers. These experts in the area of knowledge transfer have agreed on the main principles for public-private partnerships in the context of knowledge transfer. Public-private cooperation can exist in many different forms. Therefore, knowledge transfer officers generally offer case-by-case support, working together closely with researchers and companies. These shared principles help to make sure that different forms of cooperation all comply with the most important principles.

Learning from each other

The topic of public-private cooperation has been on the agenda of universities, government and companies alike. Because it contains both ethical, legal and financial aspects, it is all the more important that we share knowledge and experiences and that experts on these different aspects are aware of each other’s expertise.

In 2017, a group of experts on public-private cooperation was convened, with the goal of offering guidelines for the main elements of public-private cooperation. The already existing rules will be included in the discussion, as well as experience on how they work out in practice. The Inspectorate of Education has recently taken the initiative to gather information on the regulations regarding public-private cooperation and offer this information on their website.

More information

For more information, see the VSNU-page on knowledge transfer and the webpage of the Inspectorate of Education.