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Getting started with university-enterprise collaboration

This blog discusses the challenges of enterprise and university collaboration and the success factors of fruitful cooperation. These challenges came up in the GAP report which is based on the lecturer and industry interviews we did together with our colleagues in South Africa, the UK and Oulu University working for the SUCSESS project.

Published : 16.12.2020

We discussed issues relating to the themes of cooperation, its challenges and benefits. The trainings of the SUCSESS project will help university representatives to solve the challenges and make the most of the benefits.

Collaborating with colleagues

In South Africa, many lecturers are overwhelmed by their work loads and student numbers. There may be 500 or 700 students per class and the opportunities to involve them all in meaningful industry projects are more challenging than in the universities of applied sciences in Finland, where the groups are usually between 15 and 40 people. Cooperation with other lecturers might be a solution here – in an ideal situation supervisors work in teams and support each other and combine two or more courses for the same project. No lecturer should carry the burden of coaching university-enterprise projects alone. There is power in teamwork.

The three Ms – men, money and minutes

Cooperation requires the three Ms (men, money, minutes), i.e. people, resources and time allocated to it. Industry cooperation does not come for free. University-company partnership programmes can be used. Lecturers also need to invest time and effort, and the university needs to recognise this and allocate enough resources for projects where industry cooperation plays a role. Lecturers have to work hard on joining and retaining networks, keeping their contacts active. They also have to attend industry events and convince the industry representatives that cooperation with the university brings benefits to both parties.

Long-term partnerships based on trust are often beneficial. The university needs to understand that this takes a lot of time and lecturers should get resources to do it. It cannot happen on top of everything else. Sometimes it means getting extra hours, at other times it means covering travel expenses to attend fairs or trainings abroad.

Starting with small changes

To strengthen the relationship between universities and industry, some obstacles must be overcome. Bureaucracy and inflexible curricula put limits to what lecturers can accomplish. For an individual lecturer, they may feel like insurmountable hurdles to cross, but the world does not have to be changed in one day and definitely not alone: Lecturers can start with small changes and pilot projects. Cooperation with other like-minded lecturers may be motivational, too. It is great fun to co-create!

From an industry perspective, it might be perceived as time-consuming to work with university students. Some companies may also have negative experiences with previous student projects or no experience from them at all. Another difficulty in starting university-enterprise cooperation is the different time spans they operate in. This might result in difficulties in starting collaboration. From a university perspective, it could be beneficial to start industry cooperation with alumni who have knowledge of how universities operate and what to expect from students.

Challenges should be recognised and faced head on. A good collaboration creates SUCSESS moments for all partners involved. To succeed, open communication and well-defined objectives are good starting points. Read more about the key factors for successful collaboration in the GAP report.

SUCSESS – Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity.

Read the first blog of the series.