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How Can We Bring Universities and Businesses Together?

Closer cooperation between universities and companies can play a vital synergistic role in empowering technological breakthroughs for the Russian economy. HSE Rector and Academic Supervisor for Education Yaroslav Kuzminov discussed the key opportunities and challenges for university–business collaboration in a session of the 2018 Gaidar Economic Forum in Moscow.

According to Andrey Volkov, Academic Supervisor at the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, the last five years have seen robust transformations in Russian higher education. Universities have been making sound progress in transitioning form their legacy role as principal suppliers of qualified workforce to fully-fledged hubs of multifaceted research & development, thereby becoming better fit to generate more comprehensive contributions across socioeconomic domains. At the same time, businesses are advocating higher standards of education in high-tech sectors of the economy. It’s therefore important to identify opportunities for university–business cooperation, which would help both sides in reaching their goals.

Yaroslav Kuzminov distinguished between three key models of cooperation. The first is known as the commission model, whereby companies devise a project and invite universities to tender, and the winning university implements the project. This is probably the most typical model of universitybusiness cooperation in Russia, which constitutes 10% of university budgets. However, this cooperation tends to be very short-term, and the projects don’t tend to be very complex.

The second model is referred to as ‘exclusive partnership’. It is used mostly by universities that collaborate with the defense industry and execute orders from the military. This partnership is long-term and can be more costly, however it has one obvious advantage: there is less risk, since the partners know each other well. Such partnerships include cooperation between government bodies and universities which relate to drafting reforms and state programmes.

" There are innovative research & development hubs and accelerators in almost every region, many of which are not being harnessed to their full potential. Why then not allocate this headroom capacity for university use, so that students could take the best advantage of this resource when implementing their R&D projects?

Finally, there is a model which is aimed at sparking development incentives and economic contributions on a cross-industry or even nation-wide scale. Such cooperation is socially-oriented, and can take place with industry leaders who are able to collaborate not only with universities, but also with competitors.

However, university–business cooperation in Russia has its limitations. Yaroslav Kuzminov mentioned that Russian companies are generally reluctant to invest in research and development, and, even when such investments are made, they rarely bring about any breakthroughs. Russia is still far from being a frontrunner in the global technology race, and Russian corporates, who are much smaller than their American peers, typically favor engaging in various technological adaptations rather than pursuing resource-intensive greenfield R&D initiatives.

Luckily, there is good news as well. According to the HSE rector, it’s possible to overcome the short-term thinking of Russian businesses. The changing macroeconomic situation and better fundraising terms will allow local businesses to allocate more resources to research and development.

Universities also need to be more active in terms of research in breakthrough areas of science and technology. Yaroslav Kuzminov believes that Russia needs at least 30–40 universities to be listed in the top 100 of international rankings by subjects (there are about 60 rankings by subject in total). And, even if a university can’t be a frontrunner in research, they should at least be keeping abreast of developments and participating in large conferences.

Of course, in order to be considered serious competitors of the world’s leading universities, Russian institutions need higher investment (estimated at up to 4% of GDP by 2025) than is currently allocated to education in Russia (0.6% of GDP). It is therefore necessary to compromise. For example, a core group of ten universities could be established, which would be provided with equipment and laboratories on par with the facilities available at leading international universities. In addition to these ten leaders, other universities can be nominated to actively research other, more specific, areas of science and technology.

This doesn’t mean that the government should forget about the remaining universities. As Yaroslav Kuzminov suggests, these can become centres of innovation in their regions. There are innovation parks and incubators in almost every region, many of which are not used to their full potential. Why not allocate them for university use, so that students can use them to realize their projects? Young people are no less important than technology and money, the HSE rector believes. We should learn how to ‘capitalize’ on the youth – this is the key to developing our innovation economy.