Entrepreneurial university policy implications
Philpott et al. have cautioned against adopting wholesale the idea that the “hard” forms of entrepreneurial activity are necessarily the best and that “optimal approaches are contextually dependent” (2011: 168). The reasons include the fact that economic benefit – aggregate increases in regional or national productivity – are not tied strictly to the generation of spin-off companies or patents. For example, for MIT, “patenting activity represents only a minor form of technology transfer” and has a minor degree of economic impact.
Philpott et al. maintain that softer channels can have greater economic results. Canadian university technology transfer officials recognise the value of both soft and hard entrepreneurial activities, but the federal government continues an overemphasis on harder ones; moreover “even in archetypal entrepreneurial universities, the majority of technology and knowledge transfer activity is not hard in nature… but instead manifests itself in the form of conferences\workshops, publications and consultancy.” (2011: 168).
The entrepreneurial mission can exacerbate a schism within the academic community and undermine the contribution of the university to the community as educator. Siegel et al. (2007) observe: “Some have asserted that aggressive university commercialization of intellectual property might have a deleterious effect on the traditional ‘culture of open science’ at universities”.
The schism is fueled by perceptions that the entrepreneurial mission is anathema to academic freedom or to the purpose of the university. Overcoming this schism is a matter of finding a shared definition of the entrepreneurial role and implications of the concept, which need not be solely commercial in nature. This is feasible in light of the goals of research in the humanities, understood as social innovation and beneficent outcomes in the community. The question is, is it possible to coordinate the missions of teaching, research and service with economic development, without compromising the integrity and independence of the university? Close attention to and articulation of values is needed.
The authors also maintain that entrepreneurial policy must resolve the “inherent conflict of interest between the traditional academic reward system, which is focused on peer reviewed publication of basic research, and the technology transfer reward system, which is focused on revenue generation from applied research” (Siegel et al. 2007: 497). But does one give an unfair advantage over the other? Maybe they meant conflicting goals rather than conflict of interest.
Case study authors (Benneworth, 2006; Bramwell & Wolfe 2008; O’Shea et al. 2007) identified the importance of geographical proximity and other unique factors to evaluate the possibilities of the entrepreneurial role. Siegel et al. (2007) conclude by suggesting a review of the general strategy; while Philpott et al. (2011) support an economic role for the university, but recommend caution to avoid merely copying Stanford; prevent a schism in the culture; and “contribute to economic development without risk of undermining the traditional academic missions”.
The correct path to defining an entrepreneurial role for a given institution – if at all appropriate – will take into account the attitudes and values of participants and stakeholders, as well as a review of its intellectual assets and culture; networks; and geographic, economic and social situation.