University-Industry Interaction from proximity lenses: Reflections from Norway

Utku Ali Riza Alpaydin
University of Stavanger

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Rune D. Fitjar
University of Stavanger

The interaction between academic and industrial partners is problematic due to a number of factors (Bruneel et al., 2010). The concept of proximity, through its geographic and non-geographic dimensions, has been regarded as a facilitating attribute of interactions, which can eliminate those barriers and ease the process of coordination in these interactions (Boschma, 2005). However, the linkage between university-industry interactions and proximity dimensions has not been dealt extensively. The existing literature has examined this linkage with a narrow focus on innovation-related outputs such as patent citations (Jaffe et al., 1993) and collaborative R&D projects (D’Este et al., 2013). However, the university-industry interactions do not always directly aim at innovation, and involve many other types of interactions (Ankrah&Al-Tabbaa, 2015). The geographical scope of these numerous university-industry interaction channels and the role of different dimensions of proximity on the process of interaction remain unexplored.
Therefore, this paper aims at providing an understanding on the importance of dimensions of proximity in university-industry interactions. The addressed research questions are twofold:
RQ1: Which kinds of interactions are realized at which geographical scales?
RQ2: Which dimensions of proximity are required for what kinds of interactions?
This paper takes a quantitative methodology approach and relies on survey data of 1,201 Norwegian firms located in nine (9) counties in Norway (Akershus, Aust-Agder, Hordaland, Nordland, Oslo, Rogaland, Troms, Trøndelag and Vest-Agder,). Firms with more than five (5) employees in the NACE codes of B, C, G (excluding sub-section 47), J, K, M and N were surveyed. For the survey, university-industry interactions have been categorized under three headings (research-oriented, education-oriented and other interactions) covering 18 distinct types of interactions ranging from joint research projects to training of firm staff/employees and to creation of new ventures/firms (Spin-offs, start-ups).
The dimensions of proximity were adapted from the framework proposed by Boschma (2005) consisting of geographical, cognitive, organizational, institutional and social proximity. For geographical proximity, a spatial categorization of four (4) scales (within region, within country, within Europe, outside Europe) has been used. For non-geographical dimensions of proximity, the concepts have been operationalized in a novel manner, which distinguishes between organizational level and personal level. We expect that research-oriented interactions tend to be realized in more distant geographical scales than education-oriented and other interactions.
The initial results show that only 19% of the surveyed firms have interacted with universities in the last three (3) years. The most popular interaction types have been joint research projects, student projects and informal consultations respectively for each interaction category, in all of which the most dominant geographical scale is within region interactions.
The study supports the notion that university-industry interactions are mainly realized at the local/regional level. The results convey that the intensity of UIINs decrease when the distance between the interacting parties increases for almost all UIIN types. However, we also see that research-oriented interactions are less bounded by limitations of distance and more inclined to occur in geographical distance compared to other UIIN categories, which supports our expectation.

This research paper is co-funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie action grant agreement No. 722295, RUNIN (The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development) Project and Center for Innovation Research (CIR) of UiS Business School.