This spring, we made the exciting announcement that UVA would become one of only three American universities to join the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centers (UTC) global network, which connects research groups that are conducting high-technology research at premier universities around the world. Each UTC in the network addresses a specific set of technologies that are relevant to Rolls-Royce. The UTC at UVA will specialize in the study of advanced material systems and flow modeling, among other fields, and will create and test specialized materials for use in aerospace and other high-tech markets.

University President Teresa Sullivan

Our collaboration with Rolls-Royce is a prime example of the growing role of corporate partnerships in higher education. As federal and state funding have declined in recent years, research universities are increasingly turning to companies to form productive partnerships.

These partnerships benefit UVA in many ways. They give our faculty the opportunity to apply their knowledge and training to real-world problems, and they give our students skills they will need to succeed in a rapidly changing workplace. Many of these corporate partners offer our students internships—and eventually, jobs—in the United States and abroad. And companies can provide alternative funding sources to support the strategic initiatives detailed in our Cornerstone Plan.

These relationships also have distinct benefits for the corporations that partner with us. Increasingly, companies are looking to universities to conduct research and to replace or supplement their internal R&D units, which have drastically diminished over the last few decades. Instead of creating new labs, companies are connecting with universities to drive innovation and to help them remain competitive. UVA has some of the best and brightest students in the nation, and companies are looking for a new generation of leaders in the post-baby-boom era. We also have pre-eminent faculty who are experts in their field who can help companies develop solutions to their most critical challenges. As a top-ranked research university, we are able to leverage our strengths to support companies’ demand for multi-disciplinary thinking and talent development for their employees.

Collaborative research is often the main focus of these partnerships, as illustrated in our relationship with biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Through a strategic partnership established in 2009, UVA and AstraZeneca are working together to develop innovative treatments for cardiovascular disease. In preclinical and clinical research projects, principal investigators from UVA work with AstraZeneca researchers to search for disease mechanisms and biological targets that can lead to therapies. AstraZeneca selected UVA for this partnership after an extensive comparative analysis of innovation capabilities at all major U.S. universities and medical centers. This is an excellent example of how global partnerships can accelerate the translation of new knowledge created in research labs into the marketplace.

UVA has several other well-established partnerships with corporations. Naturally, many of these relationships originated in our schools of business, medicine and engineering, but faculty across the Grounds are now connecting with corporate partners on collaborative projects in various disciplines. To build on these relationships, we have launched a new program to build strategic partnerships with a select group of industry leaders, using a coordinated structure to optimize the scale of interactions across Grounds. Our goal is to create a strong, durable framework for these partnerships so that UVA becomes the university of choice for research collaborations, student hiring and professional development.

In addition to seeking out new partners, we want to deepen our relationships with existing partners. We know that the most productive partnerships develop over time, as groups on both sides work together, build familiarity and learn to trust each other. By creating deeper, more structured partnerships, we can sustain relationships so they survive transitions in personnel.

Our relationship with Rolls-Royce is a good example of this progression. We have enjoyed a strong relationship with this company for at least a decade, beginning with Rolls-Royce’s support for the Integrated Core Experience curriculum in the McIntire School, and focused more recently on joint work in the Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing. Success in these initial collaborations led to our new status as a Rolls-Royce UTC. Over the years this partnership has become remarkably fruitful. The partnership with Rolls-Royce is now generating 10 percent of our engineering research funding, while 10 percent of our engineering faculty are engaged with the company in research projects. And Rolls-Royce is also one of the top 10 recruiters of engineering graduates at UVA, as well as many McIntire graduates.

As we continue to build our corporate-partner program, we will do so in ways that remain consistent with our values and our founding principles as a university. Thomas Jefferson wrote frequently about the concept of “useful knowledge,” meaning that knowledge, once acquired, should then be applied in practical ways to the improvement of the human condition. Through our relationships with corporate partners, we are building new foundations of knowledge, making research discoveries that lead to new medical treatments, generating jobs for our students, and advancing the economy in Virginia and beyond.

Useful indeed.