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A Compelling Case as to Why Businesses Should Partner with Universities: Evidence from Australia

Universities Australia’s report “Clever Collaborations: The Strong Business Case for Partnering with Universities” is out. The aim of the report is to back with evidence the growing consensus of policy makers and researchers that businesses who collaborate with universities significantly enhance not only their return on investment but also their potential contribution to the community and the economy in general. The research examined over 30 individual cases of University-business cooperation in Australia, in addition to the review of related empirical studies. The result is a solid evidence in favor of collaborating with higher education and research institutions.

The State of University Business Cooperation (UBC) in Australia
Driven by local and national policies and initiatives, Australian business are increasingly engaged in collaborative projects with their university counterparts. According to a data from Australian Bureau of Statistics, close to 16,000 of Australian companies have formal ties with higher education institutions. That is an average of 410 industry partners for every university in Australia. And, at this rate the collaborations are powering the Australian economy with a whopping $19.4 billion a year.

Notably, the partnerships are diversified both in terms of mode of collaboration and area of emphasis. In terms of types of collaborations, they range from a mere contracted research of businesses undertaken by university experts to co-locations, that bring company sites right at the heart of university campuses. The topic of investigation is quite varied as well. The examples include research projects that strive to find renewable energy solutions via advanced precision components, transform the agriculture industry through next generation innovations, and those that explore new frontiers of knowledge in the aerospace industry.

The case for UBC
The report makes a forceful argument for UBC by illuminating on its direct significance for businesses, universities and the economy as a whole. For businesses, the case is indisputable. Apart from significantly raising the firm’s return on investment, it creates a positive image from the perspective of both consumers and policy makers, giving the collaborating firm a distinctive competitive edge. This is substantiated by the empirical finding that on average every dollar spent on innovative collaboration with universities brings an impressive 4.50 dollars in revenue. Furthermore, the report evidences that those companies that innovate through university collaboration achieve a significantly higher productivity than those who follow closed innovation model. The collaboration also allows the firms to remain at the forefront of their industry by tapping in to the outstanding talent base Australia’s’ world-class universities have to offer. As it stands, over $10 billion of Australian businesses income is directly tied to their formal collaboration with a university.

Likewise, a strong case can be made for universities to collaborate with businesses. To begin with, jointly working with businesses allows universities to become increasingly relevant and responsive to the needs of the industry. While doing so, universities could also distinctively identify themselves as an entrepreneurial university. The contribution of the collaboration to the financial sustainability of universities is also far reaching.

In the same line, individual benefits of collaboration at business and university level adds up to an even greater effect at a macro level. As it is stated in the report, close to $11 billion generated by such partnerships is translated to $19.4 billion worth of benefits to the national economy.

In conclusion, the report makes it clear that the very diverse and promising formal and informal collaborations that are underway between businesses and academia – if consistently nurtured with the right policy instruments – are set to make Australia a global innovation powerhouse to reckon with.


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