Knowledge Transfer Partnerships - Good for Scientists?

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Jason King
Jason King's picture
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships - Good for Scientists?

In the UK, the Government is investing more and more into KTPs, which at first sight appears to be a good thing for scientists looking to move into a commercial science environment and a very good thing for the companies involved. But the more I think about it, the more I worry.
A KTP is a collaboration between a company and (usually) a University research institute. The government pays about £23K to pay for the salary of a "recent graduate" (whereby the degree could be B.S., Ph.D, or MBA etc). The scientist is attached to the university but works for the company, usually for between 12-24 months. The scientist hopes to gain commercial experience and ideally, a salaried job with that company once the KTP ends. The company gets a highly motivated scientist - for free. In practise though, since University research jobs now have quite good salaries, companies are prepared to top up these Govt. stipends to give scientists around £30K. There is no upper limit set, but most firms pay very little extra. The University department thus gains a source of industrially relevant projects that it can give its B.Sc. , M.Sc. and Ph.D students.  The Government hopes that such contacts will promote the transfer of cutting edge research from Universities to small and medium sized companies, who will then become more internationally competitive - a benefit for UK GDP.
My concern is that expanding the number of KTPs will cheapen scientific researchers' labour and make it even more difficult for graduates to gain a properly paid commercial job. At present 60% of KTPs get offered a job with the company they are working for. But 40% don't and have effectively been used as cheap/free /slave labour for up to 2 years. This is not a position that my clinically trained colleague would ever find themselves in. The medical profession would simply not allow it.
Do other countries have similar schemes?