Wednesday 23 January 2013

A New Kind of University? Merging Industry and Academia (with help from the Government) from the Ground Up (almost).

The NY Times recently discussed the admission of the first class of graduate engineering students in computer science at Cornell NYC Tech.  Cornell NYC Tech is an ambitious graduate school designed to foster entrepreneurship through innovative curriculum and a close—even intertwined—relationship with industry from the get go.  Here’s a description of its academic structure: "Research at Cornell Tech is organized around flexible and dynamic interdisciplinary application hubs instead of traditional academic departments. This model serves as a focal point for the campus, accelerating existing sectors of New York City’s economy and driving the formation of new technology businesses through close ties to customers and unique domain knowledge. The first three hubs – Connective Media, Healthier Life and Built Environment – reflect the frontier of the information economy today and where it’s going."

Physically, classes will be located amongst innovative companies.  And, employees of the companies will work hand-in-hand with students and faculty.  Fridays are apparently devoted to lectures by people from outside academia.  Students have industry advisors for their master’s project—someone from a company, from a nonprofit or who is an early stage investor.  Professors are strongly encouraged to devote time working for industry.  You may be thinking: what about all of the intellectual property disputes that are bound to happen?  Don’t worry—they’ve thought of that as well: “[I]nstead of protracted legal battles with the university over intellectual property rights to those projects, the companies that oversee them will get a contract designed to facilitate frictionless collaboration.”  And, government, industry and academia have “skin in the game” so to speak.  First, Cornell (Cornell’s academic partner is Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology) has set aside $150 million to invest in New York’s technology sector.  Second, the City has awarded $100 million and $300 million in real estate to the new school.  Third, Google has donated space at its $2 billion headquarters in NYC for the first class until the permanent campus is completed.   Other companies and nonprofits have signed on to participate as well.  To top this off, the United States Patent and Trademark office will have an onsite representative—an innovation and outreach coordinator—to help with any intellectual property issues and federal government aid. 

What does this all mean for the “traditional” university?  Will private funding for research gravitate toward this particular type of “new” school?  What about government funding?  Is this school really that different from what is already happening?  Is basic research a thing of the past?  Academic freedom, anyone? 

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