Universities across the world are seen as essential for generating knowledge and providing higher education for the population. They also have a so-called third mission or academic engagement, which is to create and maintain links with knowledge users and facilitate the transfer of technology. (Perkmann et.al. 2013, 421.) As a result, universities are increasingly seen as one main driver for national and regional growth and competitiveness.
Researchers of the Ruralia Institute and Hirosaki University have studied the modes of the academic engagement between university actors and food sector companies in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan and in South Ostrobothnia, western Finland.
In both regions, the nature of academy-industry cooperation is based on applied research projects that use the triple-helix and quadruple-helix models. In Aomori and South Ostrobothnia alike, individual researchers collaborate with companies in such fields as product and service development and market research. In Hirosaki University, the academic engagement is also organized through more institutionalized forms of interaction, such as the regional Apple Committee that brings together companies, apple producers, regional and local officials and researchers to create new products and business opportunities within the apple cluster together. This type of strategically focused innovation community is missing in South Ostrobothnia, although there are project-based temporary organizations such as AB Seinäjoki to help the overall development of the agrobioeconomy sector of the region, including the food sector.
The methods by which the regions started academic engagement with companies shared many similarities, but there were also notable differences. It seems that Hirosaki University has a more systematic approach supporting the starting of academic engagement, whereas the actors in South Ostrobothnia rely more on personal relations. A more institutionalized form fits the more numerous academic engagement needs of Aomori Prefecture whereas in South Ostrobothnia the demand for academic engagement is more limited and the scholars can rely more on personal relationships.
In both regions, academic engagement projects as such have a limited role in gaining academic merit. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals is the most important indicator for advancing an academic career. Researchers also faced similar problems in conducting academic engagement projects: the lack of time and the different logics of business and academic research as typical challenges.
The PDF file of the report is available here: Aapo Jumppanen, Fumihiko Koyata, Timo Suutari If you run after two hares, you will catch neither – The cooperation between Universities and food sector companies in Aomori Prefecture and South Ostrobothnia Region. University of Helsinki, Ruralia Institute, Reports 184.