University-industry partnerships in the STEM field: A holistic perspective

Nina Evans
University of South Australia

Drew Evans
University of South Australia

The term Academic Capitalism refers to i) academic engagement (knowledge-related collaboration between academic and industry partners) and the ii) commercialisation of academic knowledge through academic entrepreneurship. The aim of this research project is to enhance Academic Capitalism by developing a holistic guideline for universities to foster and strengthen their university-industry partnerships and commercialisation of academic knowledge by these partners. The research identified and investigated the antecedents, complexities, challenges and consequences of university-industry partnerships and recommend ways for universities to encourage and support staff to engage in Academic Capitalism activities. In this project, we investigated the personal (‘lived’) experiences of stakeholders who partake in and contribute to Academic Capitalism activities of STEM schools in a case university in Australia. Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to-face with academic researchers and industry representatives to elicit their personal experiences and insights through the narrative inquiry method. The interviews lasted one hour each and were audio recorded and transcribed to support the data analysis process. The personal stories provide rich data about the extent and types of interaction, as well as the antecedents, barriers, enablers and challenges of participating in academic engagement and commercialisation of university-generated knowledge and products. The stories also elucidated the benefits of academic staff and non-academic partner collaboration and the impact on their respective careers. The research recommends the organisational culture and leadership support (motivation, incentives, rewards and policies) required for academic capitalism to succeed in universities.
More specifically, the research provides rich insights into the following:
• The nature of the academic engagement, the parties involved, whether the collaboration includes academic colleagues from more than one university, how the connection between the parties was established, the barriers, enablers and challenges for such engagement, how participants attempt to ensure that the relationship is maintained and possible cases where the relationship ended before the project was completed.
• The patenting and licensing of university-based inventions and/or academic knowledge, the factors that enhance and inhibit the commercialisation of academic innovation, and whether participants believe that academic engagement with industry partners necessarily precedes and/or accompanies commercialisation.
• Personal and professional characteristics that make the academic staff members and industry professionals more prone to participate in academia-industry engagement, the impact of the academia-industry collaboration on participants’ own productivity and career success, and how their productivity compares to that of academics with lower levels of industry engagement and commercialisation activity.