The Complex Relations between the Academy and Industry

Article excerpt

Views from the Literature

The attention of the popular press and other media is drawn to universities, as to other institutions, when something goes wrong. As the press produces more articles and news stories about connections between universities and business or industry, the perception that these alliances are problematic intensifies. It seems that relationships with industry, or more generally a shift in the academic world to a more commercial perspective, offers countless new ways in which universities can get themselves into trouble.

A more measured view of academy-industry relations (AIRs) appears in three recent books on the subject. All three share the perspective that AIRs are significantly changing academic institutions worldwide, that these changes are for practical purposes irreversible, and that they affect fundamental aspects of academic work and the ways in which it is accomplished. This article explores the findings and perspectives presented in these three books and related literature and provides a status-quo report on the state of our understanding of academy-industry relations and their effects on higher education.

The three books on which this report is based are Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University, by Sheila Slaughter and Larry L. Leslie (1997); Capitalizing Knowledge: New Intersections of Industry and Academia, edited by Henry Etzkowitz, Andrew Webster, and Peter Healey (1998); and Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control over Canadian Higher Education, by Neil Tudiver (1999). These books all offer cross-national perspectives on universities' relationships with industry. Slaughter and Leslie employ various theories, levels of analysis, and cross-national comparisons to study academy-industry relations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. They explore the ascendancy of AIRs in relation to globalization and reductions in government block grants to higher education. The Etzkowitz et al. volume is a collection of articles most of which were originally prepared for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization workshop on university-industry relations i n Acquafredda, Italy, in 1991. It addresses theoretical issues, varieties of AIRs, and international comparisons. Tudiver's book focuses on the emergence of AIRs in Canada, with particular attention to the role of unions in deflecting adverse effects of AIRs in universities.

What Is "It"?

Academy-industry relations encompass a wide range of activities, structures, and concepts. In a general sense, they involve an exchange of resources, ideas, or influence between some unit within a university (possibly even an individual) and some for-profit entity or subunit thereof. Etzkowitz and Webster (1998, p. 30) list thirty-three formal collaborations, all multiyear, multimillion-dollar programs that link a single company with a university, beginning with the famous arrangement between Harvard Medical School and Monsanto over a quarter century ago. Though such arrangements, usually in biotechnology or pharmacology, come to mind as major examples of AIRs, limiting a discussion of connections between higher education and the corporate sector to these major collaborations would do a serious disservice to the literature and the reality of AIRs, for several reasons.

First, AIRs take on a wide variety of forms in addition to contractual relationships between a single research university and a corporation. Included in the general category of AIRs are technology transfer, spinoff companies based on academic research, patenting, and licensing of academic research, research parks and other collocational arrangements, and consulting. For the purposes of this analysis, the acronym "AIRs" will also signify a more general view of entrepreneurial perspectives and initiatives within higher education, as described below.

Second, the parties to AIRs often cannot be listed simply as a research university and a corporation. …