HubLinked : Integrating regional University-Industry Interactions with internationalisation strategies for software innovation

Deirdre Lillis
TU Dublin

Yannis Stavrakakis
TU Dublin

Paul Doyle
TU Dublin

Radu Dobrin
Mälardalen University

This paper presents the capstone findings of the three year EU Knowledge Alliance funded project called HubLinked. HubLinked is a strategic network of industry and university partners in eight major European and one Korean ICT hub whose goal is to strengthen software innovation capacity in these regions. For academic partners, HubLinked provides a way to integrate internationalisation and regional industry engagement strategies into high-impact, cost-effective, curriculum components. For industry partners, HubLinked provides access to a talent pipeline of global software innovation graduates that can work in any sector with a particular emphasis on interactions with SMEs.

The environment in which knowledge is produced is known to be an important factor in knowledge transfer and innovation (Harison & Koski, 2010; Leten et. al, 2014; Bekkers and Bodas, 2008) however relatively few studies examine the role of university-industry interactions by discipline and sector. HubLinked completed empirical research on the effectiveness of university-industry interactions in the IT sector in eight major ICT hubs which informed the project deliverables. The research included interviews with forty industry and academic respondents and a survey of over 160 industry and 200 university respondents. Curriculum development work was undertaken in seven academic faculties at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, to develop accredited high-impact curriculum components called Global Labs, integrating learning outcomes for internationalisation, global multi-cultural team-working, software innovation and industry engagement. In a Global Lab, teams of international students work virtually on industry-specified software innovation projects, mentored by academic and industry staff. To date over 170 students, 30 academic staff and 10 industry mentors from across the Knowledge Alliance have participated in a Global Lab. The Global Labs model was also used to implement a staff training programme for 15 academic and industry partners.

The key results of HubLinked include an in-depth analysis of the dynamics of university-industry interactions in the ICT sector and the Global Labs model for high-impact, cost-effective, curriculum components which integrate internationalisation and regional industry engagement strategies. Global Labs are responsive to SMEs who find it difficult to compete with multi-nationals in attracting talent with software innovation skills, providing an accessible, low-cost, low-commitment mechanism of developing software prototypes. Prototypes with potential can be further progressed through research or innovation partnerships within universities. Global Labs also provide an internationalisation-at-home experience for students who cannot participate in international work or study placements.

Key learnings from HubLinked include the need to reform the industry engagement structures in Computer Science faculties through (i) resourcing in-house internships onsite in universities to improve interactions with SMEs and (ii) the creation of ‘project broker’ roles which straddle academia and industry. Project Brokers are staff who can (i) interact with industry partners, translating their requirements into project descriptions for student teams, ensuring the academic requirements are also met and (ii) interact with academic staff to manage industry requirements on their behalf, negotiating intellectual property and non-disclosure agreements and minimising the administrative overhead. Opportunities to scale the HubLinked model through national and European funding are currently being investigated.