The levels of university-business cooperation in Southern Mediterranean Neighbourhood (SMN) could potentially be a fertile ground for more development and innovation in the region, yet its potential remains not fully harnessed.
As part of the Horizon 2020 project Quintuple helix approach to targeted open innovation in energy, water, agriculture in the south Mediterranean neighborhood (5 TOI 4 EWAS), a major study was conducted to benchmark the levels of university-business collaboration in SMN following the methodology devised one of the partner institutions Science-to-Business Marketing Research Center. The research included 46 qualitative interviews and 731 responses for the quantitative survey conducted in the countries Algeria, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey. The target group of the research consisted of all academics, university management, knowledge transfer professionals and business representatives.
Student Mobility Leading UBC Activity in SMN
The study looked into 14 activities of UBC grouped into 4 dimensions, namely, education, research, management and valorization. Out of all 14 activities, education-related activities are the most developed, with mobility of students (work placements) capturing the highest levels of the development. Furthermore, the research-oriented dimension also proves to be an active area for UBC in SMN, with joint R&D and consulting for business being at the forefront. On the other hand, activities belonging to other two dimensions lag behind and the least developed one is pertaining to the valorization dimension, namely, commercialization of R&D results.
Cultural and Financial Barriers Prevail
Looking into what specifically prevents universities and business from cooperating are the barriers pertaining to differing cultures and lack of proper funding mechanisms dominating from both business and university perspectives. More specifically, differing mode of communication and language between university and business is the greatest barrier of all. Lack of business funding and limited resources of SMEs are also among the more pressing obstacles to UBC. On the other hand, elements that drive the cooperation between university and business actors include financial incentives, as well as the added value that UBC can bring to the research domain.
Supporting Mechanisms Underdeveloped
Exploring the mechanisms that can stimulate UBC, it is evident that the levels of development are not on the satisfactory levels. Specifically, infrastructure funding for UBC and policies dedicated to supporting UBC are lagging behind. Furthermore, paper strategies are somewhat developed, but the issues arise when it comes to the implementation aspect of such strategies.
Cultural Change is Needed
The main takeaway from the study conducted in the region leads to the conclusion that a dramatic change of the mindset needs to take place at the level of university management in order to unlock the potential brought by various facets of university-business cooperation. The current levels of UBC are mostly stemming from individual efforts in isolated pockets of academia and more top-down approach to UBC could potentially be a game-changer. To fully unlock the UBC potential in SMN, it is imperative that public authorities take a more proactive role. This approach should make sure that “no stone is left unturned” so that various stakeholders can benefit from UBC and contribute together to the development of their societies.