Universities Pin Hopes on Partners
AS growth in federal and state funding for higher education flattens, United States universities are looking at new strategies to attract scarce resources. Many hope to find them under the banner of "national competitiveness," by defining themselves as commercial partners for business.Skip to next paragraph
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"The role of the research university in the 21st century is to transfer technology or ideas out of our labs into the commercial world," says Michael Hooker, new president of the University of Massachusetts, a system which has seen cuts in state funding of 35 percent in the last four years.
"Those companies that compete most effectively will be those that bring products to market quickly," he adds. "The University of Massachusetts has only begun to lay out a vision for the future ... to marshal resources of our five campuses to contribute to the economic development of the state."
Many other universities are prospecting for new partnerships with industry.
* A 1988 General Accounting Office (GAO) report found that of 107 US universities surveyed, 41 had initiated industrial liaison programs to encourage ties with industry.
* Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., is trying to carve out a new industrial niche for itself as a partner with business in developing "agile" manufacturing. The university "is in the technology-transfer business," says media relations director William Johnson.
* Companies like IBM, Xerox, Procter & Gamble, Intel, Motorola, Milliken, and Martin Marietta are establishing partnerships with universities to promote the teaching or use of "total quality management" techniques. Total quality management
Under the terms of a partnership launched last July, the Intel Corporation "adopted" the University of Arizona. The computer-parts manufacturer is providing full-time staff to "analyze academic and research programs" through the techniques of total quality management. This approach emphasizes data-based decisionmaking and continuous organizational renewal.
"Intel is supporting the University of Arizona as if it were a group within Intel," says Ken Smith, dean of the College of Business. "Faculty are always nervous about bringing techniques from industry into the university. But we're operating in a more constrained resource environment for higher education."
A partnership between Xerox and Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh involves integrating quality management techniques into the university curriculum.
The point of the Xerox partnership is to develop more students who can work in teams and are "in tune with American industry," says Richard Florida, associate professor of management at Carnegie-Mellon's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management.
"Xerox and companies like it are drastically reducing their supplier lists and developing longer-term relations with a smaller number of suppliers. Those suppliers provided on-time delivery and a product tailored to meet the needs of the customer. The next step is to demand this of the universities, and what they supply is people," Professor Florida adds.
"The university sees this program as part of an answer to the question, `Where will money come from for basic research?,' " says Erik Devereux, assistant professor of political science at Heinz.