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The Concept Of The Triple Helix Model

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The triple helix model of university–industry–government interactions has gained scholarly as well as policy attention over the past years. It argues that the boundaries of previously separated spheres of industry, government and higher education are becoming increasingly blurred and intertwined. As a result, an ‘entrepreneurial university’ model is “emerging as a hybrid organization that combines the activities of industry, university, and public authorities to promote innovation”. According to Rothaermel et al. (2007), the entrepreneurial university is a step in the natural evolution of a university system that emphasizes economic development in addition to the more traditional mandates of education and research “with the objective of improving regional or national economic performance as well as the university’s financial advantage and that of its faculty”.

This evolution is allegedly motivated by pressures to access additional funding sources, and “the active promotion of collaboration between universities and multiple triple helix partners through a range of public policies and infrastructure”. In this context, universities are placing a higher priority on being “relevant and responsive to national, regional and local needs, and these efforts have resulted in a progressive ‘institutionalization’ of third mission activities”. Increasing competition for funding as well as policy drivers for the entrepreneurial turn “could therefore be seen as top-down coercive, normative and mimetic ‘isomorphic’ forces acting upon universities”.

Against a depiction of the entrepreneurial university model as an “inevitable, homogeneous and ‘isomorphic’ development path”, a number of scholars have questioned the implicit universality of the phenomenon. Specifically, authors have highlighted the multiple tensions and contradictions that are likely to emerge between different university missions and activities and argue that the degree and form of entrepreneurial transformation is likely to vary across countries and types of universities. For instance Philpott et al (2011), in a European university case study, observed a “lack of unified culture regarding the appropriateness of the third mission, as well as clear tensions and divides across disciplines on the meaning and type of entrepreneurial engagement. ” In a study of Spanish universities, Sanchez-Barrioluengo (2014) identified “strong differences in the performance and capabilities of universities to balance teaching with the new third mission. ” Marginson and Considine’s (2000) study on Australian universities found “differences in the way universities responded to government funding cuts and the emergence of new managerial models, with new, less academic universities adopting a greater focus on industrial relations and applied professional education, and old-established universities maintaining collegial loyalties and academic cultures despite reforms. ”

Different types of universities seem to have a mix of different triple helix activities in a variety of national and regional contexts. Hewitt-Dundas (2012) found that in the UK “different types of universities exhibited different degrees and types of knowledge transfer activity. ” While high research intensive universities focused “on the exploitation of IP and maximizing returns from research”, low research intensive ones focused mainly “on activities related to human capital development. ” Hussler et al. (2010), through the examination of academic entrepreneurship in Italy, Germany and China, put emphasis on the regional dimension of interactions. Their results suggest that differences among the technology transfer models emerge depending on regional characteristics: “while European regions are characterized by an under-representation of mechanisms for the adoption/exploitation of academic research (like spin-offs, mobility of human capital or training programs), the Chinese region seems to put greater stress on direct valorization mechanisms”.

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