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SUNY to emphasize tech transfer in 2012, Zimpher says

Sanofi Pasteur
via Flickr
Efforts to translate academic research into viable companies could see a boost this year, hinted SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher during her State of the University speech Monday.

To further boost its position as an “economic engine” in New York, SUNY will launch an effort in 2012 to encourage the formation of new companies based on academic research.

When university researchers and professors discover something new in the course of their work, SUNY officials sit down and determine whether these discoveries could be the basis for a product or company. Known as “tech transfer,” this process costs money and requires experts to navigate complex issues like patents, copyrights and business law.

While tech transfer has been ongoing for years at SUNY’s four research institutions, including the University at Buffalo (STOR) and SUNY Binghamton, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher indicated these efforts will receive new life this year.

“In 2012, we will announce programs to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and intra-campus research initiatives - programs that bring our best innovations to market to improve lives and create businesses for New York,” Zimpher told those gathered in Albany for her State of SUNY address Monday.

Nary a detail regarding specifics of this potential program were found in Zimpher’s speech, although she stressed transparency and openness will be among its key virtues.

“We will tell you precisely how many entrepreneurs we train, how many external research dollars we win and how many businesses we grow. This adds up to serious economic revitalization,” Zimpher added, referring to the fledgling SUNY Report Card, which is released annually to track metrics in the university system’s efforts to meet its mission.

Belt tightening

Another theme of Zimpher’s speech: each of SUNY’s 64 campuses will be expected to do more with less.

While SUNY is healthy financially, due in part to increased tuition, Zimpher announced the system will try to cut five percent of its administrative costs.

“Over the next three years, all SUNY campuses [will shift] … $100 million from administrative cost savings to increase our academic and instructional support,” she says.

This initiative could include layoffs, especially since Zimpher also announced that some campuses will start sharing back office operations, like payroll and human resource services. Yet SUNY officials intend to use the savings to re-invest in key academic areas.

“[SUNY intends to] hire more full-time faculty, add more courses that contribute to degree completion, add more academic advisors. [These] are all components of our plan to see more students degree-ready and graduating on time,” Zimpher says.

The speech’s emphasis on savings and reallocation could be a key insight into Governor Cuomo’s upcoming budget requests. The state has a $2 billion deficit in the coming year and cuts need to come from somewhere. In the past, SUNY has been a go-to target.

A quieter year?

At first glance, 2012 will be a quieter year for SUNY legislatively, as 2011 saw landmarks like a new tuition policy and the establishment of NY SUNY 2020.

Classes offered at SUNY’s 64 campuses could also see a shake up. An increased emphasis on nursing, nanotechnology and information technology are likely forthcoming, contingent on a survey SUNY plans to launch soon.

“First we will use labor statistics to calculate sector demand from businesses and the social sector and by region for a qualified workforce,” Zimpher says. “Then second, we will focus on our individual campuses, or clusters of campuses to adjust program offerings and enrollment patterns to meet these sector demands.”

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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