University-industry collaboration: clash of two cultures



There is no doubt that one aspect of research productivity at Malaysian universities has improved since 2010. In terms of article publication and citations, Malaysia has surpassed Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. When it comes to the weighted citation impact on the ground, Malaysia was above the global average in 2016, outperforming Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Using Scopus data for the period 2014-2018 to assess annual university output, Elsevier and the Malaysian Ministry of Education reported that Malaysia was just behind India in growth in its university output, ahead of South Korea, Japan, Australia, Singapore and Thailand.

The number of Malaysian institutions included in the QS World University Rankings reached 20 in 2020, with one in the top 100, four in the top 200 and seven in the top 500.

To further boost research productivity and promote the transfer of university research results, the Malaysian government has introduced various administrative policies and initiatives emphasizing collaboration between universities and the private sector. The industrial doctorate (MyPhD Industri) and the 2u2i (two years at university and two years in industry) are part of the initiatives implemented within the framework of the University-Industry Collaboration (UIC).

The 2u2i program represents a learning approach in which students are required to study on campus while completing internships in industry. The program aims to support flexible education and is part of Malaysia Education Plan 2015-2025 (Higher Education) Team 1: Holistic, Entrepreneurial and Balanced Graduates.

The industrial doctorate, on the other hand, is a means of promoting academic and scientific exchanges and improving communication between universities and industries.

From a learning perspective, both programs aim to provide students with greater exposure to the actual work environment and a user-driven business research and skills experience. To ensure that the content, delivery and learning methods offered by universities are relevant and in line with the needs of the industry, industry participation in the design of study programs for 2u2i is of importance. crucial.

But what are the challenges faced by such initiatives?

The challenges of university-industry partnership

The reports of the 12th Malaysian Plan (2020-2025) and Science Outlook 2020 highlighted that the results of research and innovation and the impact on industry and the community are still low and that UIC remains a program underdeveloped.

Research in this area has highlighted organizational cultural differences as the most difficult challenges. Previous research has cited universities’ inflexibility, hierarchical style of communication, bureaucracy, and lack of focus on a results-oriented culture as barriers to effective collaboration.

This means that at the most basic level there is a fundamental cultural dissonance between academia and industry involving different values ​​and priorities. In such an environment, negotiations or collaboration cannot succeed.

Expectations of partnership outcomes are also different between universities and industries, leaving both partners frustrated and demotivated to pursue their research initiative.

Industry partners often insist on measurable goals and specific time frames that provide more specific direction.

However, the lack of urgency on the part of university partners to meet deadlines or remedy potential delays is seen by industry partners as a laissez-faire approach to research and as a failure of good research practices. project management.

Academics, on the other hand, attributed the obstacles to the lack of time due to their heavy workload and lack of laboratories for research and development work. They also highlighted a lack of communication and coordination regarding research projects, potential partners and the strategic direction of the institution itself.

Even when policies were established, the reality was that the university strategy did not address day-to-day issues such as the placement of academics in the industry and vice versa, or how the strategy would benefit both parties.

There are also issues with the ability of academics to engage in research on critical topics that are useful to the nation. The industry reiterated that investing in Malaysian universities is a huge risk and academics’ technological knowledge and know-how is not increasing in line with global industry expectations.

As previous country reports have pointed out, much of the R&D work carried out in Malaysian universities has been nothing but duplications or reverse engineering of technologies already in place in developed countries.

A related concern was that the quality of faculty research activities declined as well as their research engagement and ethics. Universities need academic leaders who not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk”. This would give them invaluable credibility, both internally and externally with the industry.

Finally, lack of trust between partners has been identified as a key problem affecting the success of research and innovation. Trust takes considerable time to develop between partners, especially among industries keen to protect their technological advantage in a highly competitive industry.

Combating the cultural divide

Regarding the two initiatives mentioned above, the ministry has developed guidelines to minimize cultural conflicts and provide opportunities for the exchange of knowledge and technology and broaden the experience of researchers, leading to teaching and learning. more efficient research that meet industry requirements. The mechanisms include counseling and training as well as specially designed continuing education programs and university-industry mobility (AIM), including the placement and / or assignment of staff.

However, some universities have gone much further by insisting on a legally binding agreement with industry regarding the right to publish the results of industry researchers pursuing doctoral studies at universities.

For example, a public university has drafted a legally binding document which states that all rights to any new intellectual property developed by the student resulting from the project must be vested in the university in accordance with its intellectual property policy.

The sticking point at the heart of university culture is the right to publish. In order to minimize conflicts between university and industry in this area within the framework of industry doctoral programs, public universities have duly recognized in their legally binding agreements that all data and information arising from this agreement may be published by the university in accordance with its intellectual property policy. .

The company must receive a copy of any proposed publication at least 21 days prior to submission for review of patentable material or material deemed confidential. Obviously, universities that have not sufficiently taken into account these differences in their cultures have not been very successful in attracting doctoral candidates from industry even though they are located near regional industrial complexes.

According to the Ministry of Education, 30% of professors in public universities must be familiar with the industry requirements for universities to implement the 2u2i program. Inevitably, this involves understanding the industry’s culture of privacy and its overall work culture.

Towards better research and innovation

Clearly, building trust and a shared vision as well as negotiation skills are needed to lay the foundation for research collaboration, while good practice guidelines for effective project management must be developed and understood by all stakeholders.

One possible approach is to establish a responsible research and innovation (RRI) framework and adopt the processes used by the EU’s Horizon 2020 program in which actors work together to achieve socially responsible research and innovation results. desirable while adhering to ethical standards and focusing on sustainability. goals and the greater public good.

The shift from policy-based negotiations to principle-based negotiations should also be strongly encouraged in Malaysia’s new research and innovation ecosystem. The keys to a reasoned negotiation are careful preparation, open negotiation with positive messages, affirmative closing negotiations, and effective implementation of follow-up.

When there is a dispute over the treatment of intellectual property, universities and industries should be more flexible and realistic in their financial expectations. The goal is to ensure that the technology is developed and commercialized for the public good. In addition, making the first offer efficiently, based on what is customary and standard in the tech industry anchors trading, sets a cap, and sets the basis for a successful trading outcome.

Obviously, there must be a belief in potential partners and a sense of trust that there are mutual benefits for both sides of university-industry collaboration in Malaysia.

Norzaini Azman is Professor of Higher Education at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and President of the Malaysian Society for Research and Higher Education Policy Development (PenDaPaT). Morshidi Sirat is Honorary Professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia and Advisor to the Malaysian Society for Research and Higher Education Policy Development (PenDaPaT).

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