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University-Company collaboration: stronger together!

15 Sep 2016 News

University-Company collaboration: stronger together!

University-Company collaboration: stronger together!

Opinion article by Catarina Roseira | Marketing Manager PhD Coordenator at Porto Business School

A few years ago a research team from a Portuguese university made significant progress in its research area, earning it a major European award and media attention. Asked by a journalist about the possible intention to turn the result into something marketable, the person responsible for the investigation responded in a scandalized tone that Science does not exist to make money. Across the Atlantic, MIT (Massassuchets Institute of Technology) makes a point of stating that 50% of its patents registered in the USA are licensed to companies, such as 30% of patents pending. For MIT to make money on Science is ethical and evidence of its relevance beyond the boundaries of the academic universe.

These two examples illustrate very different views of the University’s role in value creation. In a traditional vision, the University has two missions: teaching and research. The University’s role is to produce new knowledge and qualify human capital through its different courses, such as bachelors, masters, doctorates. The two missions are interwoven by anchoring the training of students in the scientific, cultural and artistic research produced at the University. The University creates value and transfers it through the students and the companies recruit. In addition, the University disseminates the knowledge it produces through traditional channels such as the publication of articles in scientific journals or participation in academic conferences whose audience is largely composed of scholars.

Currently, the existence of a Third Mission of the University, which includes its involvement with society, or paraphrasing the mission of the University of Porto, is consensual to the “social and economic valorization of knowledge and the active participation in the progress of the communities in which it operates”. That is, it is no longer enough for the University to produce knowledge, it must be able to transform it into real economic, social, cultural and environmental value through its involvement with the different social, economic and cultural actors that surround it.

Today, the importance of economically valuing scientific knowledge is consensual in Portugal
Does this mean lessen your teaching or research activities? Not at all, since cultural and artistic scientific knowledge is the fundamental asset of the University upon which interaction with society must be built. Without scientific research, MIT would not have patents to license and thus earn revenue to invest in teaching and new research, sustaining new cycles of value creation.

Today, the importance of economically valuing scientific knowledge is consensual in Portugal. Several Portuguese universities have technology transfer offices with the purpose of supporting the management of the intellectual property of the knowledge produced there. In addition, they develop ecosystems of innovation and entrepreneurship, which include science and technology centers and business incubators, support for the creation of spin-offs, attraction of research centers of large companies, provision of training programs for entrepreneurs, organization of competitions of business ideas and support to new businesses, support to the internationalization of start-ups, etc. The UPTEC of the University of Porto and IPN (Instituto Pedro Nunes) are just two examples of this reality, already recognized nationally and internationally.

Teaching remains a privileged form of knowledge transfer, particularly through post-graduate teaching, such as masters and doctorates in the case of more complex knowledge. Continuous non-degree training and tailor-made training of companies also respond to the growing need for updating knowledge felt by companies and their employees. At this level, engaging companies and other organizations in identifying major challenges and future trends is a valuable contribution to help the University develop training offerings that ensure the development of skills aligned with the needs of society.

In addition, more and more companies and universities collaborate in national and international research projects and consortia. The increased requirement of funding agencies for the diversity of participants in research projects and the economic, social and environmental impact of the innovation produced is a strong stimulus to collaboration. The need to collaborate to obtain the much-needed funding for universities and enterprises may well be the initial stimulus needed to build bridges between the two worlds, but certainly not enough to ensure their sustainability.

The multiplication and deepening of these and other forms of creation and transfer of knowledge will depend on the mutual benefits recognized by the actors involved in these processes. The advantages of collaboration may not be recognized a priori, as universities and companies often have visions of the world, languages, time horizons, and different rhythms. To match or minimize these differences, interaction, reciprocity, trust and communication are necessary. This will help universities and companies to get to know each other, identify their competency and resource bases, key challenges and strategic drivers, and understand their needs and how they can collaborate to co-create solutions to their problems. In an increasingly complex and competitive world, knowledge sharing and co-creation of value are increasingly essential conditions for the valorization, competitiveness and sustainability of universities and companies.

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