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One surefire way to improve the EU’s innovation performance, entrepreneurship and competitiveness is to upgrade university-business links. To strengthen the role of universities in promoting economic competitiveness, regional regeneration and creating innovation hubs for business and the community is one of the priorities under the Lisbon Agenda. Universities should also be instrumental in developing a more entrepreneurial society by teaching students related attitudes and skills.

This was once again highlighted during the European Commission’s second University-Business Forum in Brussels last week. In April a Communication on ‘University-Business Cooperation’ will follow, highlighting EU-wide good practices at local and regional level. Should be interesting reading and complement the survey on entrepreneurial universities published last autumn (see my earlier blog entry ).

In the current practice of University-business relations the classical ‘tech transfer” is more and more displaced by ‘knowledge transfer’ which, in turn, is being challenged by the concept of a more free-flowing multidimensional ‘knowledge exchange’ between the three sectors of the ‘triple helix’, comprising universities, business and government. Regional governments play an increasingly important role in driving triple-helix interactions, such as through cluster policies.

Problems remain, however, in accelerating the knowledge transfer and exchange processes within the triple helix: “It is apparent that demand from industry for university knowledge, as well as the absorptive capacity of local industry, may be lacking. Furthermore, large parts of industry, notably the SME (small- and medium-sized enterprise) sector, often appear not to be aware of the value that a close university–business relationship can bring them.”

“If these policies are really to succeed, it will require thousands of individual relationships between industry and the academic community to be developed, probably with European and national intervention. For this to happen, much stronger systematic mechanisms will be required to motivate the two communities to become better acquainted. Significant numbers of academics do not yet see a role for themselves in knowledge transfer activity, lack the incentives to become more involved and need further guidance on developing best practice in partnering and enterprise training.”

(Quotes:
From tech transfer to knowledge exchange: European universities in the marketplace , Stephen Hagen, Portland Press 2008.

With different initiatives and funding schemes of various DGs (EDUC, RTD, ENT and REGIO) there is now a massive focus at the EU-level on upgrading university-industry relations, on triple-helix and on cluster policies. This means lots of opportunities for regions to become active on this front, also with EU support and funding. These are learning and project opportunities that we are actively pursuing within the ERRIN network, for instance, in our Innovation Funding Working Group.

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