Enhacing Triple Helix Model Through University Educational Offer

Universities and knowledge co-creation with Industry and society

Enhacing Triple Helix Model Through University Educational Offer

Giulia Tagliazucchi, Gianluca Marchi

What configuration may the educational offer of university assume to enhance its role of innovation driver in favour of different actors and institutions in the current knowledge society? The aim of the study is to explore how the university can take on that entrepreneurial and engaged role that it is called to play within the regional knowledge ecosystem (Etkowitz et al., 2000), and to generate and transfer the knowledge infused into that system through innovative educational programs. In the study here presented, still at its preliminary stages, we outline the analytical framework and the methodological setting adopted to examine the development of a set of educational programs launched by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (Unimore), located in Emilia-Romagna (E-R) region in Italy. We adopted the theoretical lens of the Triple Helix Model to study how innovative educational programs may improve interactions and collaborative relationships with the local motorvehicle industry and local policy makers.

While, in the last century, universities evolved from the original role of conservator and reproducer of knowledge and became a producer of genuine knowledge (the first academic revolution), more recently they were also recognized and accepted in their new role of generator of knowledge-based enterprises, thus entering a phase known also as the second academic revolution (Etzkowitz and Dzisah, 2008). This more complex role is played not only through the traditional missions of educating new generations and fostering cutting-edge scientific research, but also in weaving the ranks of collaboration within local and national industries and policy makers. This requires also that universities evolve in their organizational structures, integrate new institutional purposes, develop new collaboration skills, and ultimately take on new roles as innovation agency in the local context. “As knowledge becomes an increasingly important part of innovation, the university as a knowledge-producing and disseminating institution plays a larger role in industrial innovation” (Etkowitz et al., 2000, p.314), thus fully delineating what is universally known as the third mission of university.

This evolution of the university has been analyzed by the literature under different and only partially converging perspectives. For example, Perkmann et al (2013) defined academic engagement as the knowledge-related collaboration of academic researchers with non-academic organisations and the consequent transfer of knowledge from the university domain to the industrial one. While the academic engagement is embedded into a diversified set of collaboration forms with no equity investment involved, the academic entrepreneurship is centred on a technology transfer perspective based on the founding of new ventures, having the objective to exploit commercially the output of academic research (Shane, 2004). In both literature bodies, relatively little attention has been reserved to the role of educational offer in the intersection with non-academic organizations. Indeed, after the first and second revolution, universities are called to make a further step forward, by reaching a greater understanding of how teaching innovation may result as a driver of innovation in the revisited university – industry context. Similarly, advances in the theoretical understanding on how university can evolve in its entrepreneurial-like role of proactive innovation agency has failed to offer, since now, a convincing systematization of teaching activities as mechanisms to infuse new knowledge into a local innovation system.

To investigate how the reinvented educational offer may play a role in enhancing university’s entrepreneurial new role, we adopted the Triple Helix Model (Etzkowitz, 1993; Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 1995). At the basis of the Triple Helix Model lies the concept of boundary spanning, according to which innovation activities are favoured when academia, industry and regional government are able to interact in a systematic way and when a weaker delimitation across the three institutional spheres occurs (Etkowitz and Leydesdorff, 2000). This permeability of domains would allow the development of ties and collaboration among the institutions. Only through a collaborative new configuration of these three actors – university, industry and government – innovation can spread effectively into the local regional system. Such inter-institutions collaboration allows each actor to exert an influence upon each other and to bring the creation of new networks and trilateral agreements, with the purpose of stimulating organizational creativity and regional cohesiveness, obtaining ultimately positive externalities on the whole society. According to the Triple Helix scholars, there are several ways in which this permeability of boundaries could be pursued – a permeability that is indispensable for university, industrial and governmental actors to come into contact and to instil innovation in the local regional system and society.

Within this model, a key role in making collaboration possible is played by those universities that show capabilities and strategic intention to assume a new entrepreneurial role. Etzkowitz and colleagues clearly pose that “the entrepreneurial paradigm is by no means confined to newly invented technologies or research-intensive universities. It can be enacted at teaching as well as research universities through innovations in undergraduate education and continuing education” (Etzkowitz et al., 2000, p.314). Innovation in teaching should be addressed to meet the evolving needs of the labour market for innovation, by using the collaborative approach at the intersections with industry and local government to obtain a constant fine-tuning with the sectorial patterns of change and the competencies required by the regional innovation system. Thus, through the implementation of new educational offer devoted to improving the interplay between university and industry, with the endorsement of local governmental institutions, students and interns may actively play an intermediary role in knowledge and technology transfer to local firms. “The assumption of an active role in economic development leaves existing academic missions in place, but it also encourages them to be carried out in new ways. In addition to translating research into economic development through various forms of technology transfer, the traditional teaching role is reinterpreted as the university assists the modernization of low- and mid-tech firms” (Etzkowitz et al., 2000, p.314). The innovative educational offer also lessens the separation of teaching, research and business activities within universities, allowing the incorporation of research and teaching missions with technology development and dissemination, under a pure entrepreneurial university paradigm.

Therefore, the Triple Helix perspective has contemplated and theoretically justified the role that teaching can play as driver of innovation. However, empirical works focusing on the relationship between Triple-Helix shaped collaborative approaches in innovating university education programmes in favour of the regional innovation system are still few. Furthermore, the educational first mission of university is then the vehicle through which the Triple Helix Model can be put in action and through which university may then account for a new interwoven configuration of institutional spheres within the regional innovation system. Despite that, no strong attention was addressed to investigate the effect that a strong reputation in teaching innovation can have on making the university a proactive and orchestrating actor in generating and supporting collaboration among institutions within a Triple Helix context, thus favouring the permeability of boundaries among the three institutional spheres. This work is an attempt to fulfil these two research gaps.

#Academic Engagement #Academic entrepreneurship #case study #Triple Helix Model