The seventh set of articles from The Future of Universities Thoughtbook |North American Edition introduces…
For business, cooperating with universities can be a frustrating process and be a struggle to achieve their desired outcomes.
The potential to access ground-breaking new research conducted, and technologies developed by the universities can be enticing, the ability to utilise student talent, and even access the opportunity to work with the next generation entering the workforce can provide companies with an advantage over competitors.
So with these sort of benefits on offer, what’s stopping them?
The largest study on university-business-cooperation, currently being undertaken by the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre (www.science-marketing.com) and partners for the European Commission, gives us a deep dive analysis on the main barriers for businesses to collaborate with HEIs.
Cultural and ‘soft-landing’ barriers are the biggest barriers to European business not cooperating with universities
Firstly, a review of those businesses that are not cooperating with universities gives us an insight into the barriers faced by all businesses in their cooperation with universities generally.
As the graphic shows, the top three barriers perceived by SMEs and large enterprises are derived from different motivations and in not having an obvious and appropriate contact with whom to commence collaboration (‘soft-landing’ barriers).
The former is indeed critical, as the profit-orientation might seem difficult to combine with the research and education focus of universities. This barrier raises the issue that enterprises wanting to cooperate with universities need to better understand the missions of universities, the importance of these missions and how these can be indeed compatible with the missions of businesses.
The second and third barriers for SMEs (and the 2nd barrier for large enterprises) relate to initiating cooperation , which has been previously discussed in our blog series, and shows the importance of not only establishing relevant points of contact for academics and businesses, but also points of contact that deeply understand the nature of the other.
Barriers to cooperation are perceived much lower for those already cooperating
When we compare the differences in the barriers nominated by European businesses already cooperating with universities, and those who are not (previous graphic), we can see a subtle, but highly illuminating difference.
Firstly, and most obviously, the barrier of finding the right contact in the university is no longer a major barrier for those already cooperating.
Alternatively, looking at companies that are cooperating with business, it is evident that the perceived relevance of barriers is lower.
For example, the top three barriers for those SMEs and large corporations not cooperating with universities were all around 7 (6.8 – 7.2), whereas the top three barriers for those SMEs and large corporations already cooperating with universities hover around 6 on the 10-point scale (5.7 – 6.1).
This highlights a substantial difference in perception between these two cohorts.
The results suggest that cooperating with universities may not be so difficult after all, and that part of getting the two to collaborate is to get past the perceived barriers (and then nominating an appropriate contact partner).
Nevertheless, barriers do indeed exist and can be addressed. Among the top barriers perceived by SMEs and large enterprises is the one related to motivations for collaboration. Furthermore, both types of enterprises experience additionally a lack of people with business knowledge within universities. For SMEs the lack of external financial resources is an additional main barrier.
Is European business taking responsibility for the barriers in cooperating with university?
Generally speaking, for SMEs and large enterprises, the major barriers nominated are all external to their organisation. Internal factors tend to be lower. In fact, the lowest perceived barrier for cooperation nominated by businesses is “Lack of people with scientific knowledge within our business”.
Perhaps this suggests a need for greater self-reflection by European business, or policy-makers to educate on the need for greater understanding on both sides of the equation. After all, cooperation and relationships are a two-sided affair.
The main takeaways in respect to barriers are:
- Universities and enterprises perceive each other’s motivations differently, which can make joint efforts difficult to initiate.
- Enterprises already cooperating with universities perceive barriers to be substantially less relevant.
- The difference in perceived barriers between SMEs and large enterprises are not significant. This implies a similar approach taken by universities in initiating collaboration with enterprises.
 In the study, we categorize enterprises in terms of size (number of employees) and turnover, following the definition of the European Commission. Small and mid-sized enterprises have a turnover lower than € 50 million and employ fewer than 250 employees.
 On a 10-point scale: 1 = ‘not at all relevant’ and 10 ‘Extremely relevant’