The Future Of Innovation Is Shaped By University-industry Linkages

Adam Novotny

The Future Of Innovation Will Increasingly Be Driven By Higher Educationinstitutions (HEIs), which, through their technology transfer arms (spinoffs, incubators, science parks, license agreements) will directly channel a growing amount of applicable knowledge into the economy. Although HEIs have always possessed the skills and capabilities necessary for knowledge creation and dissemination, they only began to play an active role in the innovation process during the last decades of the 20th century. There are a couple of factors that make them more responsive to industry needs, including the drop of government funding, the development of fields of science with increased technology transfer potential or the growing scientific content of industrial production. Advocates of innovative universities believe this is good news, as commercializing technologies not only boosts university budgets, but through the sales of new or improved products and services, it increases government tax revenues, employment, economic growth and the wellbeing of society. The “pessimist camp”, however, raises concerns about the growing “marketization” of higher education. They profess that the traditional values of academic science (freedom of research, open science) will be sacrificed on the altar of innovation policy ideology, which builds its theorems on buzzwords such as competitiveness and the European innovation paradox.

In post-socialist transition economies, as for example in Hungary, the government looks for similar developments in the realm of university-industry relations to that of the U.S. But the emulation of the American tech transfer model in Eastern European context can encounter several impediments, deriving from the specific social, cultural, economic and institutional environment of post-socialist countries. On the one hand, the high level isolation and autonomy of individual researchers, coupled with publication-centred promotion systems can make HEIs a collection of self-governing “microstates”, concerned with their own interests only and much less with those of the institution or the society. On the other hand, short-term thinking and the fear of risks associated with entrepreneurship can easily deter university management from allocating more resources to the tech transfer function.

In the future, universities in Hungary may find it easier to create a separate, entrepreneurial domain alongside the academic sphere, rather than taking upon the gruelling task of transforming the Humboldtian structure into a market oriented one. For example, establishing an independent umbrella organization owned by the university, to hold all kinds of entrepreneurial activities (spinoffs, start-ups, incubation, research services, real estate management, etc.) together within the institution is a feasible alternative. A holding company would allow for a more effective and flexible coordination of the (already) quite fragmented field of academic entrepreneurship. A more radical solution would be to privatize the whole institution, though it is a quite unlikely alternative in the present political context. Turning HEIs into state-owned or private enterprises would completely perplex the established bargaining mechanisms of university governance, and to be honest, “market socialism” is a very comfortable situation for universities, who are more afraid of market forces and strict budget constraints than they believe in their benefits to higher education institutions.

Article © 2009 Adam Novotny. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Adam Novotny

Adam Novotny

affiliation:   Eszterházy Károly College; Institute Of Economic Science Gti

position:  Lecturer

country:  Hungary

area of interest:  university, entrepreneurship, technology transfer

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