The Fountain of Knowledge: The Role of Universities in Economic Development

The Fountain of Knowledge: The Role of Universities in Economic Development

The Fountain of Knowledge: The Role of Universities in Economic Development

The Fountain of Knowledge: The Role of Universities in Economic Development


Today, universities around the world find themselves going beyond the traditional roles of research and teaching to drive the development of local economies through collaborations with industry. At a time when regions with universities are seeking best practices among their peers, Shiri M. Breznitz argues against the notion that one university's successful technology transfer model can be easily transported to another. Rather, the impact that a university can have on its local economy must be understood in terms of its idiosyncratic internal mechanisms, as well as the state and regional markets within which it operates.

To illustrate her argument, Breznitz undertakes a comparative analysis of two universities, Yale and Cambridge, and the different outcomes of their attempts at technology commercialization in biotech. By contrasting these two universities-their unique policies, organizational structure, institutional culture, and location within distinct national polities-she makes a powerful case for the idea that technology transfer is dependent on highly variable historical and environmental factors. Breznitz highlights key features to weigh and engage in developing future university and economic development policies that are tailor-made for their contexts.


The Fountain of Knowledge is the story of the role of the university in the changing world, and in particular its role in economic development. It is not a book about technology transfer or a book about organizational change. It is not a book about the biotechnology industry. It is also not the story of Yale and Cambridge (or Cambridge and Yale—making sure no one gets insulted). All of the above are important parts that allow me to tell a story. But it is a different story.

Early in my academic career, I studied the localization of the biotechnology industry in Massachusetts. I asked, why does the biotechnology industry in Massachusetts cluster in Cambridge rather than in Boston or any other town? What I found was that it all was connected to MIT and Harvard. I was intrigued, and that is what led me to ask the next question, why universities?

For most of us, universities are needed for getting an education, getting a good job, and maybe moving up the professional ladder. We see universities as something we need to have. But do we? A growing number of policy makers, university presidents, and evidence in the form of economic growth say we do. Since the early nineteenth century there has been a growing pressure on universities to be participating citizens and contribute to society. But with the high-tech boom and the success of many university-related firms, such as HP, Google, and Yahoo, policy makers have started to view universities as the pathway to a region becoming a successful part of a global economy.

When we examine some of the most economically successful regions in the world, when we try to understand what is behind their success, we find a university. A university—really?

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