Asia University Rankings 2017: what fuels university-industry partnerships?

South Korea’s University of Ulsan, a pioneer in academic and business collaboration, stresses the importance of communication for maximum engagement, writes Yeon-Cheon Oh

March 15, 2017
A University of Ulsan team have their efforts judged in a robotic boat competition in the US
Source: Alamy

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The University of Ulsan (UOU) was established in 1970 with a mission to cultivate a highly educated workforce for the modernisation of South Korea.

UOU was the first institution in the country to adopt a UK-style university-industry cooperative education programme, the Sandwich Education System, which combines theoretical education with on-site practice.

UOU also introduced South Korea’s first “industry-cooperation professor” system. We work with retired executives, with decades of experience, who then teach students practical knowledge and help get them well prepared for their future careers.

Cooperation between industry and higher education was one of the main goals of UOU from the outset and the university is taking into account each professor’s cooperation achievements as part of a faculty performance evaluation programme. Since the introduction of this appraisal system, the number of patent registrations and industry research projects has significantly increased.

Higher education institutions should take a leading role in university-industry cooperation to keep it effective. In order to equip students with the knowledge and skills required by industry, it is critical to reorganise curricula and secure excellent teaching staff.

Research must be focused on predicting the technologies of the future and mapping out corresponding research areas.

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The role of the faculty used to be confined to individual classes. Universities should offer inducements to make staff recognise the importance of university-industry cooperation, and develop new curricula relevant to the cooperation between universities and corporations. Otherwise, it is very likely to achieve only perfunctory and superficial cooperation.

Success in university-industry cooperation relies on enthusiastic responses from university leaders. Senior managers should maintain a good relationship with leading business leaders, who are the consumers of universities’ research. To maintain the relationship, there must be trust between the two parties. Regular communication between the university and companies needs to be established.

However, universities cannot build trust with businesses in a short period of time and institutions should figure out their long-term goals.

In South Korea, the role of local and central government in boosting university-industry cooperation is really important. Growth in the demands made by social and political sources on university-industry cooperation helps improve the quality and quantity of that cooperation.

Businesses should change their view on university-industry cooperation. Passive engagement driven by the demands of government and communities will not result in major improvements.

Corporations should play an active role in analysing knowledge and techniques, in the selection of academic experts they want to recruit, and by making suggestions on the direction and content of the university-industry cooperation. Universities can more easily develop their ability to satisfy the needs of industry when corporations spell out their requirements and expectations.

Sometimes, mid- and low-level managers are likely to be ignorant about university-industry cooperation even though senior management emphasise how important it is. That is why defining the details of the university-industry cooperation is vital across the organisation as well as sharing feedback on the corporation’s vision and strategy.

In conclusion, for university-industry cooperation to be successful, campuses, corporations, government and communities should unite to actively play their roles: universities should begin the process; corporations should outline the details; governments should suggest consistent policies; and communities should fully support the university-industry cooperation.

Yeon-Cheon Oh is president of the University of Ulsan.

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