Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

University-Industry Interaction in the Ontario Centres of Excellence

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

University-Industry Interaction in the Ontario Centres of Excellence

Article excerpt


The issue of corporate-university linkages and university research has been at the forefront in Canadian higher education since the late 1980s, when a consensus emerged among government, industry, and universities that knowledge and highly qualified people are two main components in achieving economic growth. According to this consensus, universities through their role as creators and disseminators of new knowledge as well as through the provision of highly qualified people have a pivotal role to play in the economic development process.

There are a multitude of reasons for sharply focused attention on corporate-university linkages in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Primary among them is the changing nature of the economy (industrial to information), shifts in the nature and rate of technological change, the emergence of competitive global markets, and increased competitiveness. The development, or enhancement, of alliances among universities, industry, and government is widely seen as the prescription for the malaise.

There exist many different institutional forms of corporate-university linkages [17, pp. 25-40]. The resurgence of interest in corporate-university linkages and university research, however, has led to the proliferation of one form of linkage - university-based or university-connected research centres [19, pp. 278-279; 38, p. 5]. In Canada, this resurgence has manifested itself in an alliance between university, industry, and government in the creation and funding of Centres of Excellence [39, p. 28].

The term "Centre of Excellence," however, is neither new nor unique. It has been used to describe government programs to promote the developnment of advanced technology in the states of Massachusetts [28] and Utah [44] as well as to describe a number of academic and research programs at various Canadian universities [22, p. 35]. Centres of Excellence may also be known as University-Industry Research Centres (UIRC), Science and Technology Centres (STC), or Organized Research Units (ORU). The "centre" in centre of excellence refers to a model for conducting research that has a long history in universities. Internal university research centres facilitate networking between groups of scholars in one or more departments and/or universities who are teaching or researching in similar areas [13, pp. 80-83; 20, pp. 49-50; 23, pp. 1-28]. However, as applied to the fostering and enhancement of corporate-university research linkages, the centre model was first used in the early 1970s, when the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded various program models to promote collaborative industry-university research [21, 33].

In 1987 the Government of Ontario embarked on an ambitious five-year, $204 million program, creating seven Centres of Excellence.(1) After a successful review, the program was extended for a further five years and allocated an additional $200 million in funding [31]. In 1989 the Government of Canada followed suit and launched a five-year, $240 million program, creating fifteen Networks of Centres of Excellence [24]. This program was extended for a further five years and allocated an additional sum of $197 million, although only ten of the fourteen Centres were re-funded.

The underlying assumption in the creation and financing of the Ontario Centres and other UIRCs is that industry and university scientists will interact, that technology transfer will take place, and that as a result industry will become more competitive.

Evidence regarding the effectiveness of university-industry research relationships, and in particular UIRCs and the Ontario Centres, in terms of technology transfer to industry is mixed [17, p. 13; 43, pp. 53-70]. The data that refute the claims raise questions with respect to the cost effectiveness of universities and the ability of universities to enhance the competitiveness of industry [5, 41, 42, pp. 5-24]. The data to substantiate the effectiveness of UIRCs is contradictory. …

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