In what looked like an impossible and undesirable adventure, Nigerian researchers have started enjoying the huge economic benefits offered by the linkage between academia and the industry occasioned by the initiative of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) for advancement of critical research and techno-economic development of the nation.
Obviously, the importance of functional academia-industry linkage cannot be over emphasised especially in a country where technology development is still at its infancy culminating into high rate of unemployment and abject lack amongst the citizenry. The multinationals in Nigeria and most West African countries rely on their parent companies abroad for research into new products or improvement on existing ones because of the weak linkage between the industry and academia in Nigerian.
In developed countries, collaboration between universities and industries has been identified as critical for skill development (education and training), the generation, acquisition and adoption of knowledge (innovation and technology transfer), as well as the promotion and encouragement of entrepreneurship, i.e. start-ups, spin-offs and incubation centres. The benefits of academia-industry linkages are wide reaching and can help in coordinating research and development (R&D) agendas, avoid research duplications, stimulate additional private sector investment, exploit synergies and complementing science and technological capabilities.
Furthermore, industry-academia collaboration can also expand the relevance of research as that is conducted in public institutions, promote commercialization of research and from the public development institution and increase the mobility of labour between the public and private sectors. This is evident in some developing countries like Chile and Colombia where collaboration with the university substantially increased the propensity of firms to introduce new products and patent their inventions, (Marotta, Blom, and Thorn 2007).
Collaborations between the academia and industry have different objectives, scopes and are based on institutional arrangements. Such collaborations could be more or less intense and may focus on training or research activities. It may be formal or informal, and could emerge from formal equity partnership, contracts, research projects, patent licensing, publications, and interactions in conferences and expert groups among others.
Public policies to promote academia-industry collaboration
Public policy may influence the propensity of firms to collaborate with universities and the scope of such collaboration in many different ways. This could be achieved through funds to universities and R&D projects, provision of regulatory roles that influence the set rule of the knowledge institutions and shapes the intellectual property rights regime. Another role of public policy is the provision of the platform and infrastructure needed to drive the collaboration such as technology transfer offices, science parks, and business incubators.
Furthermore, governments can stimulate collaboration through soft measures, such as providing specific supports services to firms/universities in their researches and conducting outreach activities to promote networking and raise awareness on the importance of collaboration. Given these challenges and the very limited budgets and multiple competing priorities developing countries face, especially Nigeria, their governments should concentrate efforts on the most appropriate policy instruments suitable for their locality. The following section reviews policy options to promote university-industry collaboration, specifically as they relate to the case of developing countries.
Higher education institutions in the developing world are now very much encouraged by their governments to develop industry partnership strategies. Resource constraints and a growing appeal for relevance of their activities have pushed such institutions to give more attention to the development of policies and structures for collaboration with industry. It should be mentioned however, from the outset that university-industry relations operate on wide range of variants.
At one end of the spectrum, could be a small regional university that requires technical assistance to upgrade its existing low level technology and management technique. In Nigeria, the introduction of NOTAP-Industry Technology Transfer Fellowship (NITTF) by NOTAP has helped to bridge the gap and now some multinationals are partnering with the academia to solve their problems. The project was launched on the 28th July, 2015 with the first batch of five beneficiaries already carrying out intensive research on their various fields of study.
The NITTF has undoubtedly facilitated functional linkages between academia and industry. In order to continue to strengthen the knowledge institution and also solidify the synergy being triggered by this fellowship, the shortlisted candidates for 2017 academic year were recently assessed by a committee of industry experts and academia. In this case, candidates were assessed using various criteria based on the industrial needs of the companies that will sponsor them.
No country is recognized in the global affairs without a highly vibrant educational structure that regularly interacts with industry to ascertain their challenges and provide the necessary solution. Researches undertaken by Nigerian knowledge institutions are geared towards publication and career progression which in most cases result in loss of such research and development results to the western world. This explains why Nigerians continue to lament over the proprietary loss of the yam pounding machine which was invented by a Nigerian researcher in the University of Ibadan (Prof. Makanjuola) due to non protection.
Highly rated and renowned academic research scholars in these countries, turn out large number of Patents from their National System of Innovation (NSI) and further commercialize them for economic benefits of both the researchers and their institutions. Some of the researches in the institutions of higher learning in these developed countries are actually on request by the industry to nip in the bud identified challenges militating against the growth of the industry or to improve their production capacity.
As part of the measures to strengthening this linkage and encourage the development of indigenous technical capabilities, NOTAP in 2006, in partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), established the Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Offices (IPTTOs) in some selected Nigerian knowledge institutions. This was aimed at harnessing the advantage of having the largest knowledge infrastructure in the entire West African sub-region with over 160 universities and about 300 research Institutions.
The benefits of these linkages are already coming out from different knowledge institutions and research establishments such as Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Covenant University and Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) just to mention but a few. With concerted efforts and encouragement from government, these partnerships will continue to be strengthened for the socio-economic growth of the country.
–Ogbu is of the public relations and protocol unit, NOTAP