By Vidya Hattangadi
The triple helix model of innovation refers to constant interactions between academia, industry and governments to foster economic and social development. The model emphasises on boosting innovation for development. It describes the role of a university to join hands with industry and government. It explains social formats for production, transfer and application of knowledge. Triple helix covers creative destruction—a concept coined by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942—i.e. new innovations killing older ones. Innovation arises within each of the three spheres—university, industry and government. Creative destruction cannot be avoided when we embrace innovation. In an economic sense, creativity can produce some destructive consequences.
Triple helix was developed in the 1990s by Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff. The best example of triple helix is the Silicon Valley. The government provided land, flexible financing, stretched tax holidays and fitting guidelines to the IT cluster in California. Small and big IT businesses thrived in this cluster. The world has seen success stories of Dell, HP, Oracle, Intel, Microsoft, etc. The very needs of the industry, powered by the created market, generate the need for the academia, which, in this case, comprises of ICT professionals who are given all facilities to do R&D and new product development. Government, industry and academia all profit as taxes are collected on sales of goods, revenue is generated and knowledge is developed inside a suitable research environment.
The Silicon Valley has given rise to consumerism. Multiple producers of IT goods and services shield consumers from hopeless, inferior products, and ambiguous advertisements. Also, unfair pricing does not work because of intense competition. The ever-expanding consumption of IT goods and services is beneficial to the economy. The third benefit is increased consumption of computers and application software has made the world electronic savvy, and this has reduced the dependence on paper.
Many research scholars registered for PhD in universities can do wonders if only government and industry take interest in them. Government and industry can seed early-stage researches that are useful for business and societies. Progressive organisations increasingly seed it in areas of interest to them. They work closely with the progress of the PhD by funding or co-funding. Difficult scientific problems or new areas of technology are of interest to companies. Their scientists or engineers co-mentor researchers and their guides. If something promising emerges, companies pour more funds either directly or via a collaborative proposal through a government agency. For example, the Harvard Medical School is partnered with Schlumberger, Philips Healthcare and US National Institutes of Health. At Harvard, many medical and pharma companies submit joint proposals to government agencies for the long-term aim of deciphering the results into innovative products.
The triple helix model is based on developing institutions, not just individuals. Innovation is the key in any research. For instance, when representatives from Philips Healthcare moved to Boston, they got to know several members of Boston University School of Engineering’s faculty. Soon, a project with multi-year funding was developed to focus on a question of fundamental science in personalised medicine. A licensing agreement was negotiated in advance, stipulating that any emergent IP must be converted into a product within a specified period of time or it would slip back to sole ownership of the university.
Red Hat, founded in 1993, is an American MNC software company, now owned by IBM, providing open-source software to the enterprise community. The company has created a formal $5 million partnership with Boston University to advance research and education on open source and emerging technologies, including cloud computing, machine learning, automation and big data. The fund runs the scope from co-supervising PhD and post-doctoral students to fund collaborative projects with faculty under the umbrella of what is called the Open Cloud Computing Initiative. Boston University and Red Hat will jointly license co-developed technology while each party retains exclusive rights to its pre-existing IP. Also, IP developed solely by either Boston University or Red Hat is owned by whichever organisation employs the inventor.
– University-industry interactions: Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff emphasised that the initial role of a university is to provide education to individuals and basic research. It’s like the Linear Model of Innovation; universities are supposed to provide research, on which industry builds commercial goods. Other interactions take place through the involvement of industry managers and university faculty in both sectors. According to Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, the transfer of people between university and industry is a mode of transfer of knowledge. A university flourishes because of research, and industry grows on research in universities.
– University-government interactions: The power of interactions between government and universities depends on policies on higher education. Government has a higher influence on universities because they are the main source of funding. Government depends on universities to push innovations for the purpose of defence, economics, medical science, etc.
Do you know that the US Department of Defense extensively funded physics research during World War 2 and the Cold War? Another example is the Morrill Land-Grant Acts (1862) that allowed the creation of land-grant colleges. It was enacted during the American Civil War. During this period, universities such as Cornell University, University of Florida and Purdue University were created under land-grant.
We need universities with a core mission of producing educated people who are needed to build and run a flourishing economy. Today, in India, how many universities have been able to connect their activities to society and the nation’s economy? We hope the current government takes keen interest in developing scientific research culture in Indian universities.
(The author is a management thinker and blogger. Viers are personal)
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