University Research Innovation – Pt3

2011-05-30 / University management / 0 Comments

University Research Innovation - historyHere is a continuation of academic findings on the evolution of university research and innovation. What is interesting is a move towards recognizing the significance of many aspects that are hard to organize and control.

Recommendations for university innovation policy at a general level by Smits, Kuhlmann and Teubal (2010) are that programs must now favour evolution and variation; universities must build platforms for learning and experimentation; they must stimulate demand articulation and the development of vision among business practitioners; and assist them with strategic intelligence, including environmental scan.

Significance of Complex and Varied Interactions for University Innovation

Apart from broad policy discussion, attention is also paid to the richness and variety of activity at the small firm and individual levels.

McAdam et al (2005) explain that complex and dynamic behaviour associated with technology transfer business processes, combined with the technological risk involved in the participating small firms, has led to a lack of business process definition and improvement in this area. Key research questions suggested by these authors include: is there a method for evaluating technological risk in emerging technologies within new technology based firms in university innovation centres?

These authors define a series of activities associated with technology transfer relating to such firms in university innovation centres, within a science park infrastructure:

  • idea generation;
  • new knowledge creation;
  • spin out and spin in companies;
  • technology licensing;
  • securing intellectual property;
  • venture capital and funding;
  • technology appraisal; and
  • developing business plans and business growth.

Since these activities are often complex and interrelated, and incur high risk, there is a need for: 1. systematic provision of services in relation to business and management; and 2. action research to explore the practical application of assistance techniques.

Bercovitz and Feldman (2007) point out that the university is typically thought to facilitate start-ups at the early stages of knowledge creation. “Yet, in practice, university research involves a rich mix of scientific discovery, clinical trials, beta testing, and prototype development.”

Langford et al. (2005) identify 5 pathways by which innovation crosses institutional boundaries, saying there is little Canadian information on the “subtle pathways of information exchange and technical assistance”. Innovation is “idiosyncratic, entirely dependent on context, individual and organizational capacities, and unique circumstances”. The authors call for case studies to explore these aspects.

Here is a pdf of my University Research Innovation references.

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University Research Innovation – Pt2

2011-05-06 / University management / 0 Comments

university innovation strategyOverview: academic literature in university research innovation

Academic literature on innovation in the university, including research funding and R&D policy, identifies programs common in industrialized countries: spin-offs; programs to help small-medium sized enterprises access and absorb technologies; and seed and venture capital instruments. [Innovation and university references pdf.]

There is a general recognition that the conventional “linear” model has been replaced by a “holistic” or interactive model incorporating non-traditional disciplines and policy domains. Inter-disciplinary collaboration and a blurring of lines between pure and applied research has resulted in both evaluation problems and the clashing of cultures among academic fields. Governance of the innovation system is compartmentalized; policy makers face the difficulty of coordinating different societal and economic goals of research. Proponents of the controverisal entrepreneurial university (subject of a future post) construe the university’s mission as contributing to economic benefit of both the community and university faculty.

Strategic risk: small firms’ contribution to productivity

UK researcher Alan Hughes, in examining US pre-2003 data, draws conclusions pertinent to commercializing high-tech in the knowledge economy:

1. Significant gains in productivity were achieved not by high-tech firms themselves, but rather by the diffusion of information-communication technologies and its adoption among relatively low-tech sectors (such as retailers);

2. The part that new-intellectual-property firms play in the overall economy in terms of number of companies and revenues is very small, even if qualitatively important. It is instead other firms, second movers with different skill sets, who seize and profitably scale-up new technologies – while university licensing offices do not break even, given their research expenses;

3. The overwhelming contribution to productivity (studied in all sectors in all OECD countries) is not made by new entrants, who exit at the rate of 50-70% within 5 years, but rather by persistent firms: post-entry growth is more critical than entry per se;

4. In both the UK and the US, with similar results for the EU and Australia, it is the firm’s internal knowledge, customers, suppliers, and a list of other factors, that rank ahead of government and private research institutes as direct sources of innovation knowledge (measured both in frequency of consultation and information value).

Hughes goes on to analyze a diverse array of activities performed by universities, and reports on the perceptions by business of their relative importance for innovation. All this has relevance for nuanced decision-making in university research policy. The university, as a source of innovation and productivity, must consider itself part of a wider complex knowledge system.

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University Research Innovation – Pt1

2011-04-30 / University management / 0 Comments

University innovation policyIn this series, I report on university research policy for innovation.

University research innovation and research funding – as a matter of economics

What is the orientation of innovation in universities? From one side, it is construed as economics. According to the Canadian Federal Government, innovation is an important key to strive towards an improved economy. In 2009 the Science and Technology Minister of State announced $5 billion investments in S&T, and explained the coordination of the initiative with tax policy, as well as the identification of themes where Canada can excel, such as health care. Innovation is an aspect of economic planning; the necessity of capturing global opportunities and improving Canada’s poor standing among the OECD countries is often cited.

The core dilemma is often characterized as how to move Canada towards greater productivity and competitiveness, and how to form a strong knowledge economy, rather than relying on the traditional resource-based economy. Contributing problems include the demographics of an aging population; poor international standing in PhD graduation rates; the private sector’s disinterest in R&D investment; many firms’ poor orientation towards innovation; brain drain; and competition from emerging global markets.

Critical analysis of  innovation and technology – technology assessment

A complete and critical analysis of Canada’s innovation strategy, and its ultimate implications for Canadian society and standard of living, would have to take into account competing visions for Canada’s economy; the responsibilities of international finance and banking; global geo-politics; patterns of foreign ownership;  international trade arrangements; and immigration. What is usually missing from the mainstream discourse is a critique of de-industrialization of western economies. Michael Hudson’s work is instructive.

University successes are celebrated in having established research activity, through federal funding agencies, across disciplines and through technology clusters. The fragmentation of research funding infrastructure and lack of consistency in and levels of government support have been the target of criticism. Despite improvements in research infrastructure in recent years, the resource capacity is collectively challenged to create, for example, a science policy based on a consistent and comprehensive interpretation of science issues.

Does anyone know where ‘technology assessment’, as a critical analysis of the relationship between technology and society, now stands in Canada? It seems to be construed only as “health technology assessment”. At the National Research Council web site, TA means “testing and validation” in a purely technical sense. Perhaps it has fallen to the researchers in “social innovation” to continue to throw critical light on our scientific and technological choices.

An integrated model of university innovation – social innovation

Humanities and social sciences research on many campuses is often supported in an integrated model, where diverse fields such as technology, design, geographic analysis, and community development collaborate. Social values; ethical ends; as well as fuller public participation in the process of science agenda-setting, and risk assessment, receive some specific attention. But there is a risk of an exacerbated cultural divide in the research community along the lines of natural science (“big science”) as opposed to social concerns.

Recommendations in the mainstream discourse to improve innovation fall roughly into three categories:

A. Government and private sector financial action

1.   encourage the private sector to increase investment levels in R&D and to raise risk capital through tax relief, flow-through shares and government co-investment;
2.   invigorate management talent in financial institutions and build capital pools to resume investment in Canadian firms;
3.   revise the criteria and administration of existing tax-based incentives;

B. University action

4.   re-examine universities’ patenting and knowledge flow policies;
5.   promote higher education and improve graduate-level outcomes;
6.   improve the mechanisms of interaction and collaboration between university research centres, private sector firms and government; grad students and new scholars can function as ‘knowledge transfer specialists’;

C. Firm action

7.   embrace innovation as part of the business strategy;
8.   create a drive to build export capacity;
9.   small-medium size enterprises especially should take up information & communication technologies; better machinery and equipment; and focus on the development of knowledge industries.

Next: Innovation policy – academic literature overview.

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