Collaboration agreements for Higher Education: What to look out for

What is a collaboration agreement?

Collaboration Agreements are written agreements between two or more parties that are contributing to a project. They can consist of individuals, companies or education institutions and are very common for those operating in the education sector.

Higher Education Institutions frequently enter into such agreements as it is a great way to pool their resources and share expertise. In addition, links between higher education and industry have grown in recent years. By entering into such agreements, Universities are able to utilise additional funding from private sources with the result that innovation can be transferred to industry more readily.

What should the agreement include?

Just as there are many different projects and scenarios that such agreements can cover, there are also many different ways that the agreements can be drafted. That said, there are a few key features that an agreement should cover.

A collaboration agreement is put in place to define the rights and responsibilities between the parties and provide remedies in the event of disagreements or conflict. As a starting point, an Agreement should cover:

  1. Arrangements for the management and coordination of the project
  2. The roles, responsibilities, obligations and liabilities of each party, Intellectual Property arrangements: who owns any IP created as a result of the agreement? Who will be responsible for managing the IP?
  3. Reporting and publication arrangements: this is particularly relevant in an academic context
  4. Consequences of termination/ default and ways of handling disputes: it is always important at the beginning of the process to know what happens when the agreement comes to an end or if things go wrong.

Five things to think about before entering into a collaboration agreement

These are just a few key points to bear in mind, but every collaboration will raise its own individual issues. As a starter, when entering into a collaboration agreement, think about the five tips below and always be prepared to negotiate.

  1. What is each parties’ respective bargaining power? It is important to always get the best out of any agreement but also be realistic about who you are negotiating with. This will differ where negotiations are with an industrial partner or another academic institution.
  2. Which party is going to own any resulting IP and how will this be managed?
  3. How are the parties going to ensure that any confidential information is kept confidential? Have you put confidentiality agreements in place from the outset?
  4. Who will be dealing with the project day-to-day and what risks could this pose for the parties? Leakage of information, claims to ownership of IP, the more you cover in the agreement and the contracts with employees working on the project the safer your position.
  5. Finally, who is responsible for what? Essentially, if it’s not written down in your agreement then it will be very hard to enforce and could leave a party with very little remedies in the event of a dispute.

Collaboration is a great way for industry, higher education and even individuals to achieve success that may not be possible when working in isolation, which is why is it so important to ensure that the agreements governing these relationships are as comprehensive as possible.

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact Paul Attwood, Partner.

Article written with contribution from Sophie McKibbin, Trainee Solicitor.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Paul Attwood


I advise on a full range of commercial legal agreements, including agency, distribution, logistics, outsourcing, IT, licensing and co-packing arrangements. I also advise on aspects of intellectual property law and competition law.