Famous American researcher is talking about the interaction of government, business and universities.
Universities shall play the main role in the formation and introduction of new ideas and technologies. Universities should also shift their priorities to research budgets. This is the main idea of the book “A Triple Helix: University, Industry, Government, Innovation in Action”. Russian edition thereof has been presented recently in the Academy of National Economy under the Government of the RF. Andrey Chernakov, Commentator of the Izvestiya, was talking to Henry Etzkowitz, Author of the book, working at Stanford and Edinburg Universities.
Why do you consider universities to be locomotives of development?
Henry Etzkowitz: I made such a conclusion bases on the practices of creation of similar systems that I studied, primarily, in America, of course. New England and Northern California are the best examples where university scientific and research potential (Harvard, Massachusetts Technological Institute and then Stanford) was used to develop local industry. Professors and students participated in the establishment of new companies. Then, graduates from local higher educational institutions continued working in venture capital companies. As a result relations between universities, business and authorities formed the basis for a new management model. And universities enhancing the commercialization of their researches turned to the driver of this “triple helix”. So, an entrepreneurial university is a key for further development as well as for the creation of new jobs and achievement of economic growth and stability.
As is known, large institutes in the USSR with guaranteed budgetary financing performed fundamental researches while multiple industry-specific research institutes developed “practical” applications to them. So, how can we build a competitive economy absorbing cutting-edge innovations on the ruins of the soviet type system where researches were separated from education?
Henry Etzkowitz: I see there is some progress at the local level. Establishment of research universities is a right idea. Now, they should also be turned to entrepreneurial. Some of these processes have already been triggered. So, members of research institutes often work part-time in universities today.
But mainly it happens because their salaries are too low, it is impossible to live on such a salary now. Take into account the inner resistance of our university teaching staff to reforms. Do you think someone is willing to step aside and give place to a foreign researcher who has won a tender and is going to Tomsk from overseas to establish a school of thought?
Henry Etzkowitz: If there is no way to change traditional rules of the game so that young talented researchers could have an opportunity to engage in researches there is another way out – to open absolutely new higher educational institutions and research institutes as an alternative to existing ones. Scientists and art elite comprise the main components of innovative development and they are still very strong in Russia which it is famous for all over the world. All that is left to do is to provide required conditions to researchers as well as the possibility to successfully work in their native country. So, you have a fair chance of success. You simply need to trust the youth. By the way, Stanford became a great university due to such approach: a lot of young talented researchers were employed in new sectors and companies.
We also implement this idea at some places. For example, in Tomsk which you visited. Did you manage to see something interesting there?
Henry Etzkowitz: My visit was very brief. However, I saw a couple of examples of a new process. So, I visited one company that is developing harmonic drives. As is known, all gears are very lossy. To enhance their efficiency Tomsk specialists have calculated very complex surfaces according to formulas from the advanced mathematics. The coefficient of friction of waves with such surfaces equals practically zero and the efficiency coefficient reaches 99%. It looks impressive.
And I’m impressed by the success of the Chinese. This country has already left Russia behind in many areas though it started with much lower level.
Henry Etzkowitz: One way to establish high-quality modern universities is the concentration of resources through the merger of universities. The Chinese followed this particular way. They successfully attract their expatriates to transfer modern technologies and knowledge to their native country, that’s true. But the main difference between Russia and China is the direction: advanced ideas leave Russia for further development and implementation in the West, primarily in the USA. In the Chinese model there is the opposite direction: they go abroad to learn everything new and promising, bring new ideas and developments to China, improve and commercialize them at home. So, Russia is better-positioned since it will start from higher level having all developments at hand. Take advantage of the position you have already gained, strengthen links with those who left Russia! And it is not necessary to bring them back, first of all, they should be engaged into cooperation. And I see this process already. Generally speaking, it is not a problem anymore for Russia and for the rest Europe to invent cutting-edge technologies or establish new companies-incubators. Everyone has already mastered that. The question is how to develop a small company into a world leader in technology? The shortest way to success so far has been to send a new technology from Tomsk or another city to Silicon Valley where your compatriots who reside in the USA will improve it. Then, this technology will be transferred to large American companies that will provide a rapid growth in the production of this new good.
So, we should still work via America. Don’t you think, professor, we have already sent too mach technologies and people to your country for the last decades?…
Henry Etzkowitz: That’s true, but that is a benefit both for you and for us! The next step is to come up with idea how to make it here in Russia. How to create your own Silicon Valley keeping on the process which has already been efficiently arranged in the USA. Believe me, if you manage to do that all advanced ideas will flood into your country including those from the USA. There are a lot of brilliant ideas in the USA as well, but sometimes we lack resources for their implementation. So, this strategy is not a one way street, it can work both ways.
I can’t but ask you about “Skolkovo”. What do you think about this project?
Henry Etzkowitz: First I heard about it when your president visited our Silicon Valley. Dmitry Medvedev was talking in such a way that I got the impression that he wanted to arrange a similar valley near Moscow just for one day. But miracles do not happen. You know, leaders from various countries have been visiting this valley for fifty years already. They see offices of successful companies, laboratories, high-tech enterprises here and, of course, they want to use this experience in their own countries. For example, after general De Gaulle visited Silicon Valley the technology park Sophia Antipolis was constructed in France and managed to attract branches of large international companies. But soon almost all of them left it. And after that the French understood they also had to make a contribution to project development. So, the question is what will your “Skolkovo” become? Whether it will be a cluster where new universities and advanced ideas will start developing or it will be another place attracting branches of large international companies.
In what direction, to your mind, the process is headed today?
Henry Etzkowitz: I think no one knows it so far. It is quite possible that the development will go in both directions. But the most important is to lay emphasis on the development of a brand new university model in Russia, entrepreneurial university model. It means young people including students, postgraduates, and junior research assistants must be attracted to active participation in research and innovation activity. Young researchers should have the freedom of creativity and at the same time should be encouraged to participate in the establishment of new companies while keeping on their university research work. The same principle must be applied to students during their studies. And the process of their education shall be not only academic – that is restricted to reading books. It must be a transfer of knowledge, skills, experience of stimulation, entrepreneurship, innovation activity. If “Skolkovo” follows this direction it can become a very positive model both for Russia and for the whole Europe.
Some years ago there were talks in Europe about the establishment of nearly fifty prototypes of Massachusetts Technological Institute. They resulted in the decision to increase financial support to existing universities rather than create anything new. That’s it. So, Russia has a chance to implement in “Skolkovo” what Europeans did not have the heart to do in their time.
Alexander Uvarov, Vice Rector for Innovation Development of Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics:
– Here in Tomsk we have come to the decisive conclusion that following the “triple helix” is an indisputable condition for the creation of a successful innovative system. The book written by professor Etzkowitz is an applicatory document, a kind of a road map for authorities, business and higher education community. There are two ways – resource-based and institutional one. The first way means everything swims in money, oil and gas and everyone is waiting if something new and advanced will arise from this “broth”. And the institutional approach means conditions. So, the “triple helix” is the institutional approach. We want our authorities to develop and strengthen institutes – those of private property, data protection law, intellectual property rights, legal proceedings, civil society and expert community. And we also want well-deserved financing of science and innovations in amount of no less than 5% of GDP.
Of course, there are some requirements to the University, too. The key one is to become entrepreneurial. Professor Etzkowitz gave a very precise description of the criteria of such a university. First of all, it is a high level of its research budget. So, in Stanford where Henry Etzkowitz works this level is 85%. Though our financial capacities are much more modest than those of the USA, leading Russian universities also should shift their priorities to research budgets. And we should also remember that along with the two traditional missions of universities (education and science) innovations are their third significant mission. That is what professor Etzkowitz calls for.