Loughborough research suggests universities could act as ‘internationalisation catalysts’, reversing university-industry collaborative traditions

Graphic showing a group of people in the form of a world map.

Research from the Business School suggests the traditional relationship between universities and industry partners could be reversed, with universities acting as providers for access to international markets.

Dr Simone Corsi, Lecturer in Strategy and Innovation, together with co-researchers from the University of Leicester, Taylor’s University (Malaysia) and Queen’s University Belfast (Northern Ireland) claims to have identified a counterintuitive and novel role for universities in their collaboration with industry after studying a UK-China innovation programme funded by the UK and Chinese governments.

The programme supported over 60 UK SMEs with approaching the Chinese market by developing R&D relationships with Chinese organisations in Guangdong Province, and providing them with an interdisciplinary set of graduate students that worked on the SMEs’ projects in the UK and China.

Data for an embedded longitudinal case study representing participant experience was collected through interviews with entrepreneurs and executives of participating SMEs, university administrators, programme managers and students. This was integrated with participant observations on the programme during its four year duration thanks to the managerial active role that the first two authors had in supporting participating SMEs.

The findings of the study suggest universities’ collaboration with industry can be reversed and offers a contradiction to the traditional relationship where universities create research knowledge that gets transferred to industry through various mechanisms, ultimately transforming the knowledge into marketable products, services and technologies that become available to the wider public.

Instead, the researchers find that universities can provide access to (international) markets to technology developed and owned by industry. Whilst SMEs struggle to access international markets due to lack of knowledge and resources, the study demonstrates how universities can utilise their global network of research collaborations more effectively, creating new opportunities for SMEs to develop international partnerships.