This submodule comprises the following sections:

“I hear and I forget.
see and I remember
do and I understand.”


1.1.1 Ways to engage in collaboration

Most businesses think only in one or two ways of how they can collaborate with academic institutions. As the list below, taken from Davey et. al. (2011), highlights, however, there are many ways how universities and business can engage.

Type of collaborationDescription
Collaboration in R&DCooperation including joint R&D activities, contract research, R&D consulting, cooperation in innovation, informal and personal networks, joint publications with firm scientists/researchers, joint supervision of theses with firm scientists/researchers (Bachelor, Master, Doctoral Degree [PhD]) in cooperation with business and student projects in cooperation with business.
Academic mobilityTemporary or permanent movement of teaching staff or researchers from HEIs to business; and employees, managers and researchers from business to HEIs.
Student mobilityTemporary or permanent movement of students from HEIs to business.
Commercialisation of R&D resultsCommercialisation of scientific R&D results with business through spin-offs, disclosures of inventions, patenting or licenses.
Joint curriculum development and deliveryGenerally speaking, this is the process of creating a learning environment and the development of human resources relevant to modern society. This includes university-business cooperation in the development of a fixed programme of courses, modules, majors or minors, planned experiences as well as guest lectures by delegates from private and public organisations within undergraduate, graduate, PhD programmes or through further professional education.
Lifelong learningThe provision of adult education, permanent education and/or continuing education involving the acquisition of skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours at all stages of life by HEIs.
EntrepreneurshipActions involving HEIs towards the creation of new ventures or developing and innovative culture within the HEI in cooperation with business.
GovernanceCooperation between HEI and business at a management level of the HEI or firm. This includes having business leaders involved in HEI decision-making or sitting on the boards of HEIs, as well as being involved at a faculty management level. Conversely, governance also includes academics involved in firm decision-making or sitting on the boards of firms.

Given the various opportunities to engage, it has to be noted that collaborations often start with just one small project and develop over time to larger-scale and more strategic relationships. For example, a starting point might be a master thesis written by a student for a company. Through the joint supervision of the student, the company representative and the academic get to know each other and develop an understanding of each other’s interests, often resulting in future join activities.

The Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre at Münster University of Applied Sciences developed a model highlighting this development of partnerships, called the “Partnership Stairway Model”.

The model highlights how a relationship can develop with commitment and coordination, but also the strategic importance of the relationship increasing over time (if wanted and facilitated by all parties).

Understanding the development of relationships is crucial for both parties. Each partner should be aware of the current status of the relationship and develop ideas and strategies of how the relationship can be taken to the next level (or “stair” as in the model presented above).

1.1.2 Contact points in a university

Given the many different opportunities for business to engage with academic institutions, there are also a lot of contact points within the university, making it often difficult for business representatives to identify the right person to speak to. For example, business representatives might contact:

  • a professor working in the respective field / teaching in a specific course
  • the technology transfer office
  • the corporate relationship office
  • the dean’s office
  • the international office (in case of an international inquiry)
  • a (former) student whom the business representative knows

In order to reduce the confusion around the various existing contact points, some universities now aim to have a central contact point for all inquiries, with the inquire then being forwarded to the right member of staff when the nature of the inquiry is understood. Other universities use specific filter and search functionality on their website to better determine the interest of the business (e.g. through a set of questions to be answered) and to present the contact details of the right person.

At the end, however, it is most important that the business makes the first step and reaches out to the academic institution. Even if the first person contacted is not the best one to speak to, this person will facilitate the engagement process and make sure that the business finds the right contact person.

Key questions

  1. Do you have a good overview of what the academic institution you want to partner with / are partnering with has to offer (i.e. do you understand which services they can provide)?
  2. Do you know the stage of development of your relationship and is this view shared by all parties (e.g. are both working on eye level or is the relationship much more important to one partner)?
  3. Do you know the right people to speak to within the academic institution?