Development is Becoming More Dependent on Higher Education Institutions
By Lucell Larawan
The current scenario has already changed. And have our colleges and universities ever realize this?
Higher education institutions can no longer be just centers of teaching, research and the usual mode of “community extension”. The rationale for their existence, which is for the development of specialized disciplines, has already evolved into something more–they are now the primary harbingers of development.
Inevitably, universities live in the new context. First, societies have transformed from the industrial stage into the knowledge-based era in which the academia plays a greater role in innovation and development. In the new era, we no longer depend on the factors of production to raise the notch of our economy. Rather, we now capitalize on ideas which are transformed into commercial products or services. So, the game has changed: it is the holder of disruptive ideas who call the shots.
Second, flexible smaller scale high technologies that can be used by small organizations had supplanted large-scale physical technology. Investment in technology no longer needs a big risk of capital outlay; thus, small organizations can make use of these technologies without much difficulty. School leaders who once were hesitant about technological investments will become more aggressive than before.
Third, the milieu highlights the emergence of polyvalent knowledge that can be capitalized and publishable in such areas as biotechnology, computer science and nanotechnology. The nature of knowledge has evolved into a fusion of disciplines. Silo thinking is too expensive, more than being awkward.
Fourth, we cannot ignore the morphing of universities that incorporate a classic ivory tower focus on discipline development into those that integrate a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology transfer. Globally speaking, universities are now the seedbed of new companies, new products and services. This is in the hub of their networks in the knowledge-based economy.
When friends ask me why I have focused my researches (beyond my academic requirements) on academia-industry collaboration, I point them to the four emerging trends in the milieu mentioned earlier. Though our universities are not yet at par with those in advanced economies, they have a great moral responsibility. It is their responsibility to transform knowledge into outcomes that generate revenue. Thus, they need to partner with the industry. They need to invest in R & D (research and development). They need to create spin-off companies, the likes of those from UP Marine Science Institute–Biomart Asia, Inc., which make skin care products made from terrestrial and marine, herbal extracts; and Vivotech Labs, Inc., which offers animal testing services that market recombinant vaccine design services. These are possible among local universities as they realize their primary role in the province’s development.
The investors think: what is the real benefit of investing in R & D? According to Thurow (1999) who computed the calculus of R & D investment based on eight different studies, the social return—total economic returns to the whole society—of R & D investment is 66 percent. This means, if an investor allots P20 million for R & D, society as a whole gets P12 million in return. This is a real investment.
On the other hand, since industries need the academia in aligning the skills of the employees with what mentors teach, they should partner with the academia. They should allow the knowledge-space to flourish in the region. Some can even think about becoming venture capitalists as ideas from the academia begin to find markets for commercialization. Universities should initiate focus group discussions to form partnerships with their key decision makers and industry managers.
The government can influence this academia-industry partnership. The province, municipality or city can give incentives in terms of tax discounts to firms that make major collaborative arrangements with the academia—for instance, one half percent incentive for those that have memoranda of understanding that covers at least five months for projects like the Smart Wireless Engineering Education entered between Holy Name University and Smart Communications, Inc.
Enhancing circulation of people, ideas and innovation becomes the new model of development, according to Dzisah and Etzkowitz (2008). Based on this theory, specialists from the industry working as adjunct professors circulate people of different backgrounds leading to the formation of collaborative arrangements. Communication and networks must exist among various players in every stage of research and technology transfer. Lastly, there is a need to market the innovations to potential users. The academia’s role is to circulate men, ideas and creative works to develop in the knowledge-based economy.
If universities are just geared for teaching and research focus, they miss their primary part in a society’s trek upward. We capitalize on brilliant ideas. But these ideas remain on the shelves without a conscious effort of universities to become seedbeds of new companies and new products or services.
It is time to keep abreast with the worldwide trend.