From science to synergy: University of Eastern Finland’s evolving focus on industry engagement
We are delighted to welcome our new Initiator member, University of Eastern Finland. The university was born from a merger between two smaller universities in 2010. We spoke with Arttu Taponen (Corporate Relations Manager) about the universities evolving focus on university-industry collaboration and his role as a knowledge broker within this transition.
What are your institution’s goals in terms of university-industry engagement?
Arttu: When we started working towards the mission of university-industry engagement, it felt like a bit of a battle between the traditional science of the university and these third mission aspects.
We know that we want to enhance university-business collaboration, but its still unclear exactly what it is that we want to focus on. Do we want to focus on nurturing spin-offs, or do we want to have more joint research projects? At the moment our main goal is to engage in more joint research projects. But this main focus is subject to change.
We want to focus on both building our network for collaborations, connecting with more institutions and potential partners as well as building our internal capacity for developing impactful partnerships. We are currently working on strengthening innovation services within the university; we want to make it easier for our people to use our services.
We are also working to enhance our image as knowledge brokers within the university, so that our scientists can become aware that there is an opportunity for this kind of collaboration.
Do you have any organisational success stories that you could share with the community?
Arttu: Our focus so far has been in organising innovation ecosystems, mainly in the domains of health, photonics, and forestry, where we have a particularly high level of science.
Apart from this we have engaged into cooperation with certain companies. But these cooperations have mostly been focussed on individual faculties, and not university wide partnerships. We are looking to change this and beginning to develop more strategic partnerships. We currently have one partnership of this kind with an international consultancy firm, called Ramboll. This partnership has been developing for two years, but it really hasn’t progressed into real action yet. It has taken time to get to know each other and build up understanding. Both parties would like to take this partnership to the next level.
What kind of challenges have you faced on this journey?
Arttu: The main challenge we face is dealing with the existing university culture. We have a long history of doing “pure” science, and some of our scientists are sceptical of bringing people from outside the academic world on board. They do not see the benefits of entering these collaborations. It is a challenge to sell the idea to the scientists who are actually doing the job and convince them that this is a good idea.
On the other hand, some of our scientists are very open to it. These scientists create value, gain a lot of research funds, and spread the word. Through them, we can demonstrate that these activities really do work.
The research in these collaborative projects is also very high level, so we can demonstrate to our scientists that the quality of the research in these projects is not negatively affected by involvement of industry but instead its impact is enhanced.
What was your main reason for joining the UIIN community?
Arttu: We are at the very beginning of our university industry cooperation journey, so UIIN seemed like the natural network to join.
We joined the UIIN forum in Helsinki last Autumn and the conference in Budapest this May. This gave us the opportunity to see what we could get out of this membership, to learn from the experiences that other universities have had and to also consider what we can bring to the community.
We hope that being part of this community will also help us to inspire our scientists to get involved with engagement and collaboration.
If you would like to know more about the University of Eastern Finland,
you can contact Arttu Taponen via email.
Ready for more?
If you enjoyed this article, check out our article Positive Outcomes that Come from Being an Engaged, Innovative and Entrepreneurial University and podcast episode Strategic Partnerships – How Proximity and Colocation Drive Innovation.
Images credit: University of Eastern Finland
Lauren Kroemer-Pope (interviewer) is the Outreach and Partnerships Specialist at UIIN.
Tasha Day (editor) is a Project officer at UIIN, where she undertakes research activities and creates content on a wide variety of topics including entrepreneurship education, sustainability and research valorisation.