IUCRC Model Partnerships

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The National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC) Program is influencing positive change in the performance capacity of the U.S. industrial enterprise. Over the past three decades, the IUCRCs have led the way to a new era of partnership between universities and industry, featuring high-quality, industrially relevant fundamental research, strong industrial support of and collaboration in research and education, and direct transfer of universitydeveloped ideas, research results, and technology to U.S. industry to improve its competitive posture in world markets. Through innovative education of talented graduate and undergraduate students, the IUCRCs are providing the next generation of scientists and engineers with a broad, industrially oriented perspective on engineering research and practice.

With industrial and other support totaling 10 to 15 times the NSF investment, IUCRCs are a premier example of "leveraged" funding—a model for the Federal Government in how to develop cost effective synergy with the nation's research and development process. Indeed, this model has directly influenced several other Centers programs that were subsequently established by NSF and other Federal agencies. Placed in this context, the IUCRC Program is a distinctive driver of the growing NSF industry-university partnership. Emphasis continues to be on the establishment of multi-university IUCRCs. The benefits from the resulting collaborations and pooling of resources are numerous.

The IUCRC Program

Currently there are approximately 60 IUCRCs, all administered by the Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP) Division of NSF's Engineering Directorate. More than 900 faculty members, along with some 1500 graduate students and 300 undergraduate students, carry out the research at these Centers annually, which encompass almost the entire spectrum of current technological fields. A primary purpose of the IUCRC Program is providing high-quality interdisciplinary education. The Centers have produced several thousand M.S. and Ph.D. graduates, who can be found throughout American industry and academe.

NSF supports these Centers through a cooperative leveraging mechanism. NSF's financial contribution to the Centers is relatively small—about $15 million in FY 2011. Funding from sources other than NSF is much larger, totaling more than $68 million in FY 2000. Currently, the Centers have well over 1000 memberships. Of these, about 85 percent are industrial firms, with the remaining 15 percent including State governments, National Laboratories, and other Federal agencies. Research at each center is formulated, selected and executed in close partnership with the center's membership. Center research is supported via a partnership between the center's universities and members through which membership fees are pooled and assessed just 10 percent indirects by the performing universities. Individual industry members are able to highly leverage their membership investment while universities build trusted relationships across entire industry sectors yielding return on investment across their mission areas.

How Does It Work?

An IUCRC often begins with a small collaborative planning grant to a group of university faculty members able to demonstrate the scientific, organizational, and entrepreneurial skills necessary to form a team and initiate and run a successful Center. If the prospective Center can obtain commitments of strong support from industry and the affiliated university or universities, it may submit a proposal to NSF describing the progress that has been made and documenting the team's potential to operate successfully as an IUCRC. Two or more universities are required to propose a multi-university Center.  Following successful merit review of the proposal, NSF may make an initial five-year IUCRC award for Phase I operation of between $80,000 and $90,000 annually to the lead site of a multi-university Center and $60,000 annually to each Center site. When the initial five year grant expires, NSF funding may be extended for funding for two subsequent five year periods for Phase 2 and Phase 3 operation at a reduced level.

NSF's investment in the IUCRCs is intended to seed partnered approaches to new or emerging research areas, not to sustain the Centers indefinitely. The Foundation intends for IUCRCs gradually to become fully supported by university, industry, state, and/or other non-NSF sponsors. Each IUCRC is expected to maintain at least the minimum amount of industrial support through membership fees derived from at least the minimum number of members outlined in the current solicitation., Each Center is also required to develop a plan to work toward self-sufficiency from NSF. Over 80 percent of the centers established under the IUCRC program continue on as successful centers without NSF funding.

In addition to the basic IUCRC award, Centers and Center researchers can compete for other NSF support for research and education projects. At any point—even at the end of its life cycle—NSF may provide funding to the Center under special arrangements involving joint participation by other NSF program offices. NSF supplemental support may include collateral programs such as a Cooperative Opportunity for Research Between IUCRCs (CORBI) project, whereby two or more Centers and their industrial members engage in a cooperative research project of interest to all parties (with NSF and industry sharing costs). Through programs such as GOALI (Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry), fellowships are offered to Center faculty, whereby the faculty member can spend time in a corporate research lab or factory, again with NSF sharing the cost. Other supplements to IUCRC awards may be made in the form of joint sponsorship of projects with other federal agencies, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, Teachers and Veterans and other educational activities, workshops, and other purposes consistent with the goals of the Program.

The structure of a typical IUCRC

 Center Director reports to university management—in most cases, directly to the Dean. An Academic Policy Committee composed of deans and other top university officials such as the provost and vice president for research is available to address important policy issues such as patents and licensing, promotion, and tenure. The various research programs usually consist of several projects with a strong focus on an industrial interest. These projects will often involve graduate students under the direction of faculty researchers.

Across the Program, these Centers have established an extraordinarily effective partnership with industry. This partnership takes full advantage of the strength of each participant. University faculty contribute their skills in research and their understanding of the knowledge base; industrial researchers contribute their knowledge of both the technical needs of industry and the challenges associated with competing successfully in the marketplace. The partnership is formalized in each Center's Industrial Advisory Board (IAB), which advises the Center's management on all aspects of the Center, from research project selection and evaluation to strategic planning. It is important to note that all IAB members have common ownership of the entire IUCRC research portfolio; however, individual firms can provide additional support for specific "enhancement" projects under seperate arrangements with the respective university.

The partnership is given even greater strength by the direct involvement of industry representatives in research projects. Each project in the Center has a principal researcher (typically the project's research professor) and in many cases also has one or more mentors from industry (who may be a IAB representatives or engineers or scientists assigned from an IAB member company). The principal researcher maintains close oversight of the progress of the research by the student(s) and briefs the industrial mentor on a regular basis. The mentor can, and often does, have direct input into the direction of the research.

This extensive industrial involvement in research planning and review leads to direct technology transfer, bridging the gap that traditionally has kept U.S. industry from capitalizing fully and quickly on the fruits of research at American universities. The close involvement of industry in the Centers also eliminates the perennial problem of "Not Invented Here"; in the cooperative research model, all Center developed research products are owned by all the members.

The participation of NSF, although small financially, nevertheless sets the tone for the IUCRCs. Strong program management ensures that each of the Centers continues to follow the IUCRC model and this helps each to build strong and successful centers. With such extensive industrial support and participation, NSF's role is crucial in influencing industry to take a longerterm view of its needs, with appropriate attention to research quality. This ensures that the fundamental research conducted in the Centers continues to add to the knowledge base that will be vital for solving the problems and meeting the needs of the future.

NSF also helps to ensure high standards among the IUCRCs through a mechanism that is unique to this program: Independent professional Evaluators are engaged to study the industryuniversity interaction onsite, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to determine (1) the quality and impact of Center research, (2) the satisfaction level of faculty who participate in the program, and (3) the degree of satisfaction of industrial participants. A historical profile of each Center is maintained; and annual assessments are conducted of Center processes and results, finances, and structural issues. One indication of the high quality of IUCRC research is that faculty publish their work in the most prestigious journals. IUCRC faculty as well as students regularly garner awards from their respective professional societies for their innovative research.


Contact Information

Industrial Innovation and Partnerships
Directorate for Engineering
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22230

(703) 292-8380
(703) 292-9051 Fax
(703) 2925090 TDD

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