August 31, 2009
Some go as far as to suggest that industry should have input into university curricula.
The prevailing logic runs like this: Industry and innovation are essential to the creation of Europe’s ‘knowledge economy’; universities are capable of producing new knowledge; we should let industry tell universities what kind of knowledge to create and what kind of graduates to produce.
Then hey presto! We’ll all be on the same page and universities will become a sub-division of industry’s R&D departments churning out patents and marketable innovations.
As pointed out in today’s EurActiv interview with the European Youth Forum, there are clear threats to the independence of universities when academic programmes begin to resemble an industry wishlist.
But arguing against ever-tightening university-industry links is not merely about preserving academic independence for the sake of it. The whole idea runs counter to industry’s stated goals of making the education system serve the innovation agenda.
Universities have always been a breeding ground for innovation. They are a place where freethinkers develop the out-of-nowhere ideas that drive civilisation forward. (Apologies for the highfalutin truisms.)
But to harness an independent engine of growth is to neutralise it.
If industry and academia are to work together to solve the problems of the day, it effectively narrows the scope for the kind game-changing invention that can emerge from universities and industry. If both sectors are thinking about the same problems in the same way, the risk is that they will come up with the same types of answers – and that they will come up with fewer answers.
The business community is brilliant at developing marketable innovations which can deliver short and medium term returns. Universities need know no such constraints.
Business groups, governments and researchers can suggest that creative workers need a particular set of skills: graduates should be lateral thinkers, culturally nimble, interdisciplinary team players. Fine.
But if industry has too much influence on universities we’ll be left with a less diverse innovation machine. And that benefits nobody.Author : Gary Finnegan