Enabling university-industry linkages – Co-adaptive collaboration and university environment

Sidath Alwis
Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

Introduction and Aim:
Since the 1980s, there has been a growing interest in the ‘third mission’ of universities and the ways to implement it along with the main university roles of teaching and research. This newly attributed mission, on the one hand, is an extension of university activities towards direct interactions with business and also a direct engagement of universities with entrepreneurial activities by acquiring a certain level of entrepreneurial identities (Etzkowitz, 2008). Regional science literature has highlighted a wide range of university outputs that generate both direct and indirect impacts on regional development. Moreover it has been identified multiple ways of university engagements that are taken place with regional economic partners (Krol et al, 2016). However the establishment of linkages between two different institutional types operating in different institutional domains may subject to different constraints. It is important to develop necessary modifications for the systems and mechanisms of collaborating parties and interacting in an adaptive manner to develop successful collaborations. The co-adaptive collaboration between the collaborating teams of university and firm could be a good answer for successful cross-sectoral interactions. Through a co-adaptive collaboration, the collaborations could play a pro-active role to develop self-adaptations and induce partners’ adaptations. Such approaches could be better alternatives to develop university-industry links (UILs) especially in developing countries and different lagging regions of advanced countries where there are lack of institutional mechanisms and proper policies. Accordingly the objective of the study is to explore the potentials to develop co-adaptive collaborations between universities and firms and the conducive situations and challenging conditions related to that.

Research methodology:
The research was conducted as a case study focusing on university engagement activities of two universities in Sri Lanka. The data were collected from key informant persons including the academics, researchers and research supporting staff of two universities and directors, managers and R&D staff from respective firms. The respective informant persons were purposively selected based on their profiles and through snow balling technique by getting information from other academics and industrialists. The data were collected through semi-structured interviews with selected interviewees and interview duration was 1-2 hours for each respondent. The data were electronically recorded during the interviews and they were transcribed to text immediately after each interview. The transcribed data were further subjected to the reviewing of interviewees. Secondary data were collected from university and firm publications, websites, news (papers), magazines, archival material, et cetera to further complement the interviewed data. The data was analyzed using thematic analysis methods.

Results and implications:
The results reveal the necessity of developing collaborations in a co-adaptive manner in order to generate successful outcomes through university-industry links. The partnering firms have contributed to develop business-focused interaction mechanisms and procedures within the university under certain collaborations and similarly academics have involved in to make aware the firms about academic environment. However, the initial interactions taken place between academics and firm executive officers in personal level as a form of social interaction is important to develop successful formal interactions between both parties later. Such informal social interaction helps to develop initial trust among two parties. Moreover such types of initial social interactions help to develop successful co-adaptive collaborating mechanisms. The challenges to develop co-adaptive collaborations can be identified in both parties linked with the respective enabling environments of universities and firms, external business environment and changes in government policies. UILs could be successful if universities can proactively involve in making aware the regional industries and firms about the potentials of prospective and suitable collaboration opportunities as majority of firms where SMEs account for a larger proportion in developing countries focus their less attention on innovation-based business development. However it is less-likely to identify such a proactive involvement from universities. Lack of coordination units in the universities affect adversely to attract industry requests for collaborations though the university is equipped with competent human and physical resources. Organizational culture and regulations of universities and weak investment capacities and risk-taking propensities of firms are key challenges for UILs.
There is a higher potential to develop successful outcomes from UILs through the co-adaptive collaboration approaches. There are certain UIL activities that have been contributed to exchange the knowledge about respective organizational environments and to develop specific conducive procedure to facilitate for efficient collaborations. However the issues related to organizational culture, innovation investments and external influences from government policies and business environment results for less efficiency of UILs in developing countries. Proactiveness of universities could be a solution to break these challenges, but it was not identified such commitment from universities instead of providing business solution upon requests of industries.