Inarguably, university-business cooperation (UBC) has emerged as one of the main tools for effective knowledge transfer across research and business sectors. The collaboration between academia and industry focuses on practice-based research and the dissemination of research results to the industry, while benefiting both partners, fostering innovation and boosting regional development.
In a practical sense though, the question arises: who is responsible for initiating university-business collaboration and how does it start?
Who initiates UBC?
The study on ‘State of European University-Business Cooperation’ commissioned by the European Commission undertaken between September and December 2016 sought to explore this topic further by posing the question ‘Who initiates university-business cooperation?’ to both academics and businesses alike.
European academics say that they see themselves as the main initiator of UBC
The study revealed that European academics believe that they are usually responsible for starting cooperation activities. Academics believe that the most common way to start cooperation with business is through their own initiative or through the initiative of a colleague, whilst the least likely commencement point for cooperation was through current students. Internal intermediaries, university management, business, alumni, external intermediaries and government were approximately equally likely to initiate cooperation.
Who initiates your university-business cooperation activities (answered by European academics)?
The majority of European businesses state that their organisation is the main initiator of UBC
In contrast to European academics, the participating business people perceive their own organisation to be detrimental for the initiation of university-business collaboration. According to businesspeople from over 30 countries, the rank their own organisations as the driving forces for cooperation with a higher education institution, far more than university alumni working at their businesses, who just sometimes establish collaboration with academia.
From the business respondents point of view, internal intermediaries within the university are rather seldom responsible for initiating UBC, whilst external intermediaries who work for regional development agencies or networks are perceived to be the least likely to start cooperation activities.
Who initiates your university-business cooperation activities (answered by European businesses)?
Key insights and the growing importance of intermediaries
Given that these results are perceptions of the respective stakeholders, the reality may differ. Nevertheless, agencies looking to support cooperation can take away the following insights:
- If this is indeed true that academic and businesses are commencing their own cooperation, then the role of intermediaries could be to get around the academics and businesses to support them in their endeavors (e.g. help them to reduce bureaucracy associated with cooperation)
- The wide range of initiators suggests there are actually multiple initiators of UBC with academics, business and alumni leading actors in commencing cooperation activities
- The lack of recognition of intermediaries by business particularly highlights either the potential for intermediaries to improve in this area, or given that UBC is driven by people and relationships (Davey et al. 2011), that intermediaries could take the role of supporting relationships as much as any introductory role they might have.
How does cooperation commence?
Initiating cooperation between university academics and businesses requires individuals and groups to identify potential partners and engage in initial contact, before identifying whether and how the potential collaboration could work. Rather than individually driven direct advances of either side, individuals commonly meet potential partners in open forums, including workshops and industry conferences, networking sessions or other social functions (Plewa et al., 2013). Referrals from colleagues are also ways in which initial contact is made, further demonstrating the importance of a social and professional network for the initial introductory phase.
What appears paramount is the personal connection or the chemistry between individuals seeking and assessing opportunities for working together. As people identify each other, develop joint opportunities and create the foundations for the collaboration to happen, it is the melting pots that bring diverse people together and enable such chemistry to happen.
These results come from the ‘State of European University-Business Cooperation’ study commissioned by the European Commission, conducted in 34 countries and incorporating the academic as well as the business perspective. The aim is to discover the modes and the extent of cooperation between businesses and higher education institutions (HEI) in a European context. With the insights acquired in the study, the relationship between government, business and HEIs can be strengthened and employment, productivity and social cohesion increased. The vision for the project is “to unlock the potential of UBC as a primary focus for developing a European knowledge society”. For further information about the State of European UBC study go to www.ub-cooperation.eu or to contact the Project Director, Todd Davey: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let us know about your experience! Have you already initiated a cooperation between universities and businesses?
This article has been authored by Todd Davey, Carolin Plewa and Alina Dreier.
Plewa, C., Korff, N., Johnson, C., Macpherson, G., Baaken, T., and Rampersad, G. (2013) “Evolution of University-Industry Linkages – A Framework”, Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 30 (1), 21-44
Davey, T., Baaken, T., Galán-Muros, V., Meerman, A.; (2011), ‘Study on the cooperation between Higher Education Institutions and Public and Private Organisations in Europe’. European Commission, DG Education and Culture, Brussels, Belgium; ISBN 978-92-79-23167-4, (Book/Report)