With over 350 attendees, this European Commission’s Thematic UB Forum was one of the biggest yet. Gathering together European delegates around the topic of entrepreneurial universities, innovative businesses, strategic alliances, etc.
The forum opened by a number of inspirational speakers who have been personally involved in entrepreneurial ventures, including the US Ambassador for Austria, Alexa Wesner, and the State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, Harald Mahrer.
Their commitment to developing entrepreneurial minds and universities certainly offered a strong endorsement for the topic of university-business cooperation and two themes emerged:
- Dual study programmes are developing fruitful results in the region, and
- Entrepreneurial attitudes will be crucial for our fast-changing world.
Some forum insights are as follows:
Dual study programmes are growing in momentum
As a means for bridging the divide between academic and industry as well as to increase employment opportunities for graduates, the dual study programme, an important educational programme mostly in German-speaking countries, was a continuing theme through the forum.
The concept of dual study programmes are embedded in their higher education systems, as was discussed by Dr. Ute Goetzen, Head of Dual Studies of Volkswagen Group.
At VW, the offer of going straight into practical work rather than theory is a leading feature in their programme. The intensive programme at VW offers a university course and at the same time gain a qualification in a recognised occupation. The average period of study lasts around 8 semesters and permits the student to receive two qualifications. Further advantages include a short period of study, strong practical focus, earning while learning, tuition fees paid by Volkswagen and ultimately, a job at Volkswagen.
These advantages for students also apply for dual-study programmes generally, whilst advantages for business are that students are much better equipped at the end of their study, whilst HEIs benefit from having higher student employability and satisfaction.
However, it was highlighted that the dual study programmes only exist in certain countries and need to be negotiated with individual companies, with a heterogeneous set of needs, which makes it time consuming. Additionally, there are differences in the dual programmes’ structures both across countries and also within countries. This means it is difficult to compare, assess or accredit the programmes.
Large firms are like supertankers, start-ups are like speedboats
and both are needed
An inspiring speech by Werner Wutscher provided an analogy for large companies and startups and their mutual need. He relayed to the audience that “Large firms are like supertankers and start-ups are like speedboats”.
Werner elaborated about large firms stating that when times get tough and the seas rough, it is good to have supertankers because they can ride out the storms and provide stable employment, however this same advantage means that they are slow to turn and to react meaning rapid changes and adaptations are difficult.
However, he stated that the speedboats are nimble and fast and can get into every nook and cranny including niche markets and respond quickly to trends. However, if a big wave comes the speedboat will capsize and tip everyone out because they generally lack the required resources, funding and market knowledge to ride out storms.
He proposed that the two, the supertanker and the speedboat, need each other. The start-ups have great ideas but lack resources and market knowledge whilst large firms have a lot of management and market know-how as well as resources but lack good ideas or the ability to move on them quickly. One of the biggest limiters for large firms to be innovative is changing their culture, because ‘culture eats strategies for breakfast’.
He posited that universities can play a leading role in the development of technology and other ‘smart’ start-ups, outlining that start-ups are the laboratory of the future and should be embraced by policy-makers and universities.
Universities can embrace and lead the quadruple helix
Bringing together the quadruple helix actors in meaningful cooperation (universities, businesses, government and society) was a key platform of the case of Paper Province initiative in the Swedish region of Karlstad. Leveraging trusted existing relationships and lead by the Karlstad University, the initiative sought to be a leading region for a forest-based bio economy, not just paper. A key aspect of their initiative is the acquisition of not just business partners but also ‘societal’ partners including trade unions, conservation groups and a ‘women owning forest’ group. Their award-winning undertaking recognizes a number of key success factors including:
- Buy-in and commitment from all quadruple helix actors
- All actors are knowledge producers
- Stamina is required (time, energy and resources)
- Tolerance between actors
- Change in terminology e.g. chemistry to bio-design
- Long term commitment for real development
A roadmap for cultural change within the university
The key points of the forum could be summarized into the following roadmap for cultural change at universities:
- Identify and recognise issues
- Seek a long term commitment e.g. Top-level buy-in
- Develop strategies e.g. incorporate the third mission in the vision of the university,
- Develop structures e.g. programmes or professionals
- Create appropriate incentives e.g. contribution to career path of academics
- Build relationships based on trust and commitment
- Imbed an international and interdisciplinary group of people with stamina, open-minded and persistent
Even when we are still far from having a well-functioning European University-Business Ecosystem in Europe, these events are not only inspiring but also helpful to get to know other professionals with similar interests, potential partners and good practice cases.
One step in the right direction.
Authored by Todd Davey and Victoria Galan Muros
(For more information on the UBC project, please visit ub-cooperation.eu)