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Optimal incentives for income-generation in universities: the rule of thumb for the Compton tax

journal contribution
posted on 30.05.2006, 10:24 authored by John Beath, Robert F. Owen, Joanna Poyago-Theotoky, David Ulph
In this paper we propose a novel framework to model one of the key links between universities and industry—the undertaking of applied research. We postulate that a basic objective of universities is to undertake fundamental research and that they receive public funding to do so. Nevertheless, faced with tight budget constraints, universities may have incentives to allow their staff to devote some of their time to income-generating activities such as applied research or consultancy. This opens up two channels by which universities can ease their budget constraint: (i) by allowing academics to supplement their income, universities may be able to hold down academic salaries; (ii) universities can effectively ‘tax’ the income that academics raise through applied research or consultancy—for example, through the imposition of ‘overhead charges’. By easing their budget constraint, universities may be able to take on sufficient extra staff to more than offset the time that existing staff are spending on non-fundamental research and thus increase the amount of fundamental research that they can achieve with a given public budget. We develop a model of this link between universities and firms and use it to determine the optimal ‘tax’ that universities should impose on applied-research income. The Compton tax, used at MIT in the 1930s, is an early example of the use of this instrument.



  • Business and Economics


  • Economics


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BEATH, J., OWEN, R.F., POYAGO-THEOTOKY, J. and ULPH, D., 2003. Optimal incentives for income-generation in universities: the rule of thumb for the Compton tax. International Journal of Industrial Organization, 21, pp.1301–1322.


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