Research proves to be the most active area of University-Business Cooperation in Austria, but more effort is needed to fully unlock the dormant UBC potential.
Even though Austria scores among the top three countries in its attempts to engage students with the world of work through various means, according to the Times Higher Education Survey (THE, 2018), there is still a long road ahead for Austria in the area of university-business cooperation (UBC) in a wider sense. The largest European study into UBC titled the State of University-Business Cooperation in Europe, conducted for the European Commission (DG EAC) reveals that not all UBC activities are equally developed. The study inspected the opinions of 407 Austrian researchers, 124 university leaders, and 96 business representatives.
Research at the Forefront of Austrian UBC
The study has compartmentalized 14 activities into 4 UBC areas, namely research, education, management and valorization. Out of these four, the area of research boasts the largest levels of development, with the activities of joint R&D and business consulting being the most frequent avenues of cooperation, as reported by both university and business representatives. It is noteworthy to mention that the joint R&D activity is particularly developed in the Austrian case and it surpasses the EU average of 6.4, as reported by business representatives. Similar pattern is evident with another research activity, namely the mobility of staff and with 3.6, Austria exceeds the EU average of 3.3. Given that the mobility of staff is the least developed activity within the research area in Europe, Austria can thus be seen as a role model to emulate.
Areas of Management and Valorization Lagging Behind
On the other hand, the remaining three UBC activities, education, management and valorization, show room for improvement. With the exception of commercialization of R&D results, over 50% of university representatives reported that they do not cooperate in the areas of management and valorisation at all. Activities that warrant special attention are related to governance and shared resources. Governance in UBC refers to decision-making process where an academic sits on a board of a firm, or a business representative sits on the board of a university. (Davey et al., 2011) UBC-inspired governance models allow for better communication channels between business and university worlds thereby clearing paths towards better and more efficient alignments among stakeholders. Shared resources refer to a wide range of collaboration activities, such as shared infrastructure, setting up innovation/incubation centers, shared human resources, etc. (Davey et al., 2017). This area is particularly important in that it contributes to the efficiency of resource use and promotes innovation. Despite their importance these two activities are underdeveloped in Austrian context, with figures going below the EU average. However, Austrian Ministry of Research and Economy has recognized the potential of these areas and taken certain steps, such as initiating knowledge transfer projects (BMWFW, 2015), but more time and commitment is needed for a substantial change.
The Road Ahead
The future, however, is not as bleak. As high as 99% of both university and business representatives have set targets to either increase or maintain the same levels of commitment towards UBC activities. Thus, the challenge at hand is drawing new actors from the sphere of business and universities into the UBC ecosystem. Once in, the odds are in favor of them remaining there.
The results presented in the article are part of the study State of University-Business Cooperation in Europe conducted by a consortium under the leadership of Science to Business Marketing Research Center within University of Applied Sciences Münster during 2016 and 2017. The aim of the project was to get a more profound, comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of the state of UBC in Europe, from the perspective of both the higher education institutions and the business sector. The project explored the state of play of UBC in 25 different countries, examining the form and extent of main drivers and barriers for the different stakeholders, regulatory frameworks and the type and extent of existing measures supporting UBC at a national level.
BMWFW (2015). Der gesamtösterreichische Universitätsentwicklungsplan 2016-2021. Wien: Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Wirtschaft.
Davey, T., Baaken, T., Galán-Muros, V. & Meerman, A. (2011) Study on the cooperation between Higher Education Institutions and Public and Private Organisations in Europe. European Commission, DG Education and Culture, Brussels, Belgium.
Davey, T., Meerman, A., Galán-Muros, V., Orazbayeva, B. & Baaken, T. (2017) The State of University-Business Cooperation in Europe. European Commission, DG Education and Culture, Brussels, Belgium.
Times Higher Education. (2018). THE. Germany best for student social engagement in THE survey: Retrieved from: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/germany-best-student-social-engagement-survey