EDUCATIONAL COLLABORATION AT NORDIC TECHNICAL UNIVERSITIES – HOW IS IT PERFORMED AND DOES IT AFFECT INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP?

G. Bengtsson

Blekinge Inst of Technology (SWEDEN)
Since the European Union launched its Lisbon declaration in the beginning of this century becoming a “innovation union” innovation and entrepreneurship have been on the political agenda in Europe. Universities are expected to be one of the most important organizations in realizing a higher level of innovation and entrepreneurship in the European union countries. Universities are expected to collaborate with and transfer knowledge to established companies or stimulate researchers and students to commercialize their knowledge through new firms, i.e., entrepreneurship. In the last two decades the Nordic countries; Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden have changed several university governing laws, regulations and funding principles in order to stimulate and facilitate universities to transfer knowledge to companies and stimulate academic entrepreneurship. The Nordic governments have also funded the establishment of specific transfer organizations such as university incubators, science parks, technology-transfer offices and holding companies in order to develop specific transfer and commercialization capabilities in the university organizations.

These developments have spurred some research mostly focused on the transfer of research knowledge to industry and/or to new firms through academic entrepreneurship. The role of higher education and how that may used in innovation processes in companies or create entrepreneurship is much less researched overall, in Europe and in the Nordic countries. Systematic knowledge on Nordic universities’ educational collaboration for innovation and entrepreneurship seem to be lacking. This is the case even though systematic efforts to increase Nordic universities’ contribution to the countries’ innovation and entrepreneurship levels have been taking place for almost two decades.

In order to shed light on the role of higher education and its importance for innovation and entrepreneurship in a region this paper presents the results of a survey of the four major technical universities in the Nordic countries; Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland; Chalmers Technical University in Gothenburg, Sweden; the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Norwegian Technical University in Trondheim, Norway. Through the survey we have investigated what forms or tools the four technical universities use to collaborate with industry in education and to what extent these forms affect innovation in companies and entrepreneurship.

The survey is still ongoing expected to be finalized in the coming month. Preliminary results show that there are five main forms of educational collaboration for innovation and entrepreneurship: 1) Thesis and project assignments, 2) Internships, 3) Executive and continuing education, 4) Entrepreneurship education, 5) Meeting spaces for innovation between companies and students. All four technical universities use all five forms but with varying intensity. From an innovation perspective thesis and project assignments by engineerings students in their finishing year seems to be the most important form. From an entrepreneurship perspective the entrepreneurship education and related facilities such as incubators seem be most important.