Promoting higher education-industry partnerships and collaborations
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The global demand for greater social accountability, responsiveness and relevance on the part of higher education has manifest in an emphasis on universities' contribution to the national economy. As knowledge becomes a force determining productivity and competitiveness, the rapid spread of 'open innovation' and collaboration between firms in emerging and advanced economies around the globe has placed special attention on universities and their potential to enhance firms' technological capabilities. There is increasing attention paid to the potential contribution of universities as knowledge producers interacting with firms to build learning and technological capabilities in a national system of innovation, and hence, contributing to sustained economic growth and structural change, in the specific conditions of developing countries (Liefner and Schiller 2008, Mazzoleni 2008, Schiller and Brimble 2009). Knowledge-based institutions play a key role in preparing graduates with appropriate scarce and critical skills, and in contributing research to the development of new technology, new organizational forms and innovation. University education produces individuals with fundamental competencies able to absorb new technologies for firms, thus building and increasing
capabilities for firms and industries in a national economy. University research can provide missing or complementary basic, applied or experimental research to inform firms' innovation and R&D activities. In turn, industry has been identified as a key partner for higher education, as a potential source of much-needed 'third stream' income. These trends are evident in South Africa, with attempts to promote university-industry linkages from the late 1990s, as part of new policy frameworks to bridge the 'innovation chasm' between the science and technology system and the industrial system, and thus contribute to build a strong national system of innovation (DACST 1996, DST 2002). Recent national policy shifts mean that higher education institutions are now required to align and coordinate their strategies with the state's reprioritization of socio-economic development goals that favour the poor and socially marginalized (HESA 2009). Knowledge and innovation are critical to socio-economic growth and development, but in a country of limited resources like South Africa, interaction and partnerships between universities, science councils, and the
private sector are even more essential to achieve these goals. The emphasis is shifting from promoting university interaction with firms in the private sector in high technology fields, to include interaction with a broader range of social partners - productive agents in the informal and rural sectors, and public sector partners such as communities and civil society organizations (Kruss 2010, Goddard 2010). The Research and Innovation Strategy Group of Higher Education South Africa (HESA) commissioned this research report, to inform advocacy to promote university-industry interaction in key sectors in South Africa, with university, government and business partners.