South Korean universities lead way on industry collaboration

Data spotlight universities that publish highest proportions of research output with industry

March 9, 2017
View of quality control engineer, POSCO
Source: Getty

South Korean universities are among the world leaders when it comes to publishing research with industry, according to new data.

Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), founded by Korean steel company POSCO in 1986, tops a table of universities publishing the highest proportions of their research output in collaboration with industry produced by Clarivate Analytics for Times Higher Education, with 23 per cent of its publications coming via such links.

In eighth place is South Korean institution Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), which has an alliance with Samsung so far-reaching that some describe the Korean conglomerate as having “acquired” the university.

The UK’s University of East Anglia and Institute for Cancer Research figure in the top 10, in fifth and ninth places respectively.

Scandinavia also features prominently, with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s tie-up with its industrial research offshoot SINTEF – which focuses on solar, wind and hydro power – putting it in fourth place. Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, which links closely with Volvo companies on research projects including electric and autonomous vehicles, is in sixth.

South Korean universities publishing in collaboration with Samsung, the Korean multinational electronics conglomerate, dominate a separate table of the universities publishing the highest proportions of their total research outputs in collaboration with a single industrial partner.

South Korean university collaborations with Samsung make up seven of the top 14 in terms of links with individual companies, producing between 2 and 5 per cent of those universities’ total research outputs.

The fact that South Korea was a poor, agriculture-based economy until the early 1960s and has since undergone an industrial miracle may be one of the explanations for its strength in university-industry collaboration.

“Korea has one of the highest R&D intensities in the world and a focus on high-tech industries,” said Martin Hemmert, professor of international business at Korea University Business School. “However, coming from a catch-up position, many companies did not have strong competencies in basic research, hence they try to strengthen and augment them via research collaborations with universities.”

The fact that Samsung is embroiled in a major corruption scandal in Korea that has led to the impeachment of the nation’s president – and now the firm’s acting head has been indicted on charges including bribery and embezzlement – might be interpreted by some as a cautionary tale about the dangers of universities becoming too close to a single company.

Professor Hemmert said that while some Korean academics “fret about SKKU as ‘Samsung University’, other leading universities take pride in their independence from any particular partner or donor”.

He thought it unlikely there will be “lasting damage from being associated with Samsung due to the recent scandal”, as universities will remain “fully aware of [Samsung’s] number one position in Korean business and their outstanding global success over many decades”.

Universities publishing the highest proportions of their research output in collaboration with industry

Rank Institution Country Proportion of publications that are industry collaborations
1 Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) South Korea 22.98
2 National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon (INSA Lyon) France 18.01
3 China University of Petroleum China 14.77
4 Norwegian University of Science and Technology Norway 11.03
5 University of East Anglia UK 10.23
6 Chalmers University of Technology Sweden 9.14
7 Eindhoven University of Technology Netherlands 8.96
8 Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea 8.84
9 Institute of Cancer Research UK 6.88
10 CentraleSupélec France 6.18

Source: Clarivate Analytics, based on research articles and reviews indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection databases between 2007 and 2016.

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