Put a group of university presidents together in one room and it won’t take long for the conversation to turn to that pesky thorn that is now firmly entrenched and slowly festering in our sides: national and international university rankings. In the beginning, when these rankings were largely compiled by media outlets such as U.S. News & World Report or Maclean’s to attract consumers to special features focused on the pros and cons of campuses in the U.S. or Canada, the thorn barely touched us with a glancing scratch. Over time, however, the annual scratch became more and more insistent and harder to ignore. Now rankings are nasty and barbed thorns with the capacity to hobble — sometimes disastrously so — otherwise healthy, high-functioning institutions of higher learning. And they’re here to stay.
The problems with national and international rankings are numerous and well known. So well known, in fact, that the world’s most powerful ranking organizations — the World’s Best Universities Rankings conducted by U.S. News & World Report in partnership with Quacquarelli Symonds and the Times Higher Education Rankings — have been working diligently to revise ranking measures and their methods in an attempt to increase the accuracy and objectivity of the rankings.
A laudable exercise, but even with recent changes, the rankings remain flawed and misleading on many fronts. Too many measures continue to rely on the subjective judgment of faculty, employers or students who, in most cases, will have little, if any, knowledge of institutions or individual researchers far outside the realm of their own direct experience. No measure has been found that accurately captures the value and impact of humanities and social science research, and trying to quantify the quality of undergraduate teaching or student experience through a simple faculty-student ratio simply cannot stand up to scrutiny. It must also be remembered that many of the rankings only take into account research that is recorded in English, leaving much of the tremendous work and talent in countries such as China and Russia unrecognized and under-valued.
From my perspective, rankings are also missing the mark by failing to shine a light on some of the most significant benefits that universities bring to local, national and global societies. The focus of most rankings is on academic research outputs — publications, citations and major awards — that stand in as proxies for research quality and reach. While these outputs do a fairly good job of pinpointing the impact of a university’s contributions to knowledge, especially in science, technology, engineering and health sciences, they provide little indication of what kind of impact these advancements have on factors that the global community generally agrees are markers of prosperous and secure societies with a high quality of life.
Let me give you an example of what I mean: governments and policy makers everywhere now consider universities as economic engines as well as educational institutions. Public investments in research are increasingly directed toward research with the potential to translate into products, processes and policies — even whole new industries. This trend in research funding reveals a lot about the ways in which universities matter to governments, policy makers, regions and the public today, but the rankers aren’t paying attention.
Consider Israel. According to data on NASDAQ’s website, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any other country in the world except the U.S., and major companies such as Intel, Microsoft, IBM and Google have major research and development centers in Israel. Why? If you look at the data, you see a correlation between this entrepreneurial activity and the investments in and outputs from Israel’s universities.
Israel is among a handful of nations with the highest public expenditure on educational institutions relative to GDP, and it has the highest rate of R&D investment relative to GDP in the world. It also has the highest percentage of engineers in the work force and among the highest ratio of university degrees per capita. Many of the companies listed on NASDAQ were started by graduates of Israel’s universities: Technion, Tel Aviv University, Weizmann Institute and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to mention a few. Do international university rankings capture these economic impacts from research and postsecondary education in Israel? The answer is no. In spite of their tremendous impact and output, Israel’s universities are ranked somewhere in the 100 to 200 range.
Germany’s universities also tend to be undervalued in international rankings, even though Germany has had the strongest exports-led economic growth during the recession. By contrast, Britain’s productivity, growth and competitiveness lag far behind Germany, and still, British universities generally outrank Germany’s. According to OECD statistics, the proportion of higher education research and development funded by business in Germany is over twice that of Britain, which suggests the strong link between Germany’s globally competitive business sector and universities. Although many factors contribute to a country’s competitiveness, the role of universities, their quality and impact is an important factor.
My point here is not that universities should be ranked according to economic impact, per se. Instead it is to suggest that, if rankings are here to stay, then they should, at least in part, adhere more closely to measures that reflect the priorities for which universities are being held accountable today by their various stakeholders. Otherwise the rankings will continue to miss the mark and reinforce tired reputations and old hierarchies.
Indira Samarasekera is president and vice chancellor of the University of Alberta.
An estimated 1.6 million people around the world -- mostly women and children -- die each year from health problems brought on by breathing the air in their own homes, where they cook meals on primitive stoves and over open pit fires. Millions more in developing countries suffer health problems and even death from polluted vehicle exhaust or tainted water. The harsh reality is that no matter how many efficient light bulbs we install on our campuses -- no matter how sustainable we make our institutions of higher education -- these changes alone will not have the major global impact needed to improve these peoples’ lives and make a difference throughout the world.
Our nation’s research universities have, within their reach, the power to change these lives for the better -- through education of a “green collar” workforce and with ground-breaking research solutions deployed through market-based enterprises. But instead, we in higher education spend a great deal of time talking about changing out light bulbs in campus buildings, when we should be focused instead on engineering a better light bulb -- and educating the knowledge leaders who will invent a replacement for the light bulb.
Universities and colleges across the country are, today, in the process of considering whether to sign on to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which commits institutions to making their campuses “climate neutral” through investments in infrastructure, sustainable practices and renewable energy sources, and integration of sustainability into their curriculum. I will sign it as a worthy -- if largely symbolic -- statement, and my own institution has for several years been taking steps to reduce energy use, build to LEED gold standards, and generate far more energy than we consume via the green-generation capacity of our new wind farm and solar panels. Such activities, by this point, ought to be viewed as a routine part of doing business at any university in a responsible way. We have the responsibility -- and opportunity -- to do so much more.
Universities are society’s greatest sources of ideas and innovation. They have the capacity to generate fundamental solutions to issues such as climate change -- while also preparing a skilled workforce for the anticipated demand for green-industry jobs over the next several decades. To fulfill this capacity, universities must be organized such that they have the potential to contribute to economic growth; and the products of their science and engineering research must be commercialized for the greater good. Presidents, in turn, have a responsibility to organize institutions to increase their inherent capacity to educate and develop new ideas and technologies.
Like the space race that fueled an explosion of interest and investment in universities both as research engines and as sources of high-tech workers, research related to climate change, sustainability, clean energy, and “green” science represents the next great knowledge frontier for American higher education. While engineers, atmospheric and environmental scientists, and others at universities like Colorado State have been working in these disciplines for decades, today’s raised national consciousness creates an environment conducive to expanding these disciplines and driving their research products more rapidly into the marketplace, for the benefit of the planet and all its inhabitants.
We are only just now awakening to the emerging workforce needs, from green-building architects to wind-energy engineers, that our institutions will be called on to help address in the coming decades. We need new educational programs that go beyond building sustainability into the curriculum if we really want to prepare our students for success in a green-collar economy. But in addition, we must acknowledge that the heart of a great university today is not just focused on teaching, learning, and knowledge generation, but on the institution’s capacity to take that knowledge and commercialize it for the greater good.
This challenge to universities to become more directly engaged in markets will be anathema to many in academe. Universities and capitalism have had a long, sometimes uneasy relationship. Indeed, for some it has been a wholly inappropriate relationship that can distort the university’s mission, move institutions away from basic research to more practical and industrial applications, and even hinder the ability of faculty to be neutral in their pursuit of truth. Former Harvard President Derek Bok warned that technology transfer could influence faculty in choosing which problems to investigate and might cause faculty to drift away from research into technology transfer itself. But a focus on enterprise-based solutions is hardly antagonistic to the character of higher education. Indeed, it is founded in higher education’s traditional fundamentals of teaching and learning for the benefit and betterment of society as a whole.
The real challenge is to organize universities more effectively such that their potential for promoting quality of life and economic prosperity is substantially enhanced. Except in a few instances, traditional technology transfer has not yielded the results in new products that one might have hoped for given the investment, and the costs of technology transfer, given the large number of universities with transfer offices, are fairly high for the limited yield. The problem may well be the paradigm used by universities in technology transfer efforts. In traditional technology transfer, a patent or a license is viewed as an acceptable, if passive, outcome. A paradigm that does not fuse research and development, where market-based solutions are not fully integrated into the research process, seems more like the 1940s than the 21st century. Thus, solutions to global challenges like climate change may well be hindered by the approach that universities are taking with traditional research programs and traditional technology transfer offices.
Universities now have an obligation and an opportunity to demonstrate that we have the agility, vision, and enterprise-based focus to be an effective partner in deploying innovation in support of environmental and other global challenges. To do so, institutions of higher education must reinvent their own organizational structures to both preserve the ability of scientists to pursue truth without bias or undue influence from market forces -- and the ability of the institution to take research ideas more rapidly to the marketplace.
For that reason, universities like my own have joined earlier ones like MIT and Cal Tech in adopting a clear philosophy: Take great research ideas, narrowly focus in specific areas -- such as the problem of carbon-emitting two-stroke engines in Asia -- and move them rapidly into the commercial space. Envirofit International, a Colorado State University spinoff company, provides a powerful example: It is developing what The New York Times calls “the first market-based model for clean-burning wood stove technology” for application in the developing world and has built a corporate infrastructure to support this model. But, to develop such enterprise-based solutions requires that institutions adopt new research models, as well. The NSF has coined the term “cyberinfrastructure” to describe collaborative research that depends upon common data sources made possible through cooperative measurement devices and a digital foundation for sharing information.
Once research enters the market space, it can transform lives -- generating jobs, improving health and living conditions for people worldwide, and stimulating economic prosperity. Those institutions able to incubate innovation and accelerate the transfer of research from the laboratory to the free market will succeed in solving global problems. To realize fully universities’ inherent capacity, we must move beyond our campuses, beyond generating awareness, beyond symbolism. Instead, let’s begin to focus on using our enormous capacity in support of enterprise-based solutions founded in collaborative research and academic programs that truly make a global environmental impact and prepare our students to be competitive in tomorrow’s green economy.
Larry Edward Penley
Larry Edward Penley is president of Colorado State University.
Higher education recognizes patents as indicators of advanced research and innovation and as sources of significant revenue. Today, patents are facing a serious threat from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The Patent Reform Act of 2007, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last September and currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate, would raise the costs to obtain a patent, create new uncertainty as to the validity of patents, and place new limits on the damages that may be awarded to patent owners when their patents are infringed. These provisions could have significant adverse consequences for current and future patents and patent applications from higher education institutions.
Why should anyone but lawyers and technology transfer managers care about a seemingly obscure patent bill? Because raising the costs to obtain a patent will force institutions to either increase their cash outlays for patent prosecution or reduce the number of patent applications they file. More research that might have led to revenue streams for universities and inventors will be left unpatented -- simply given away by publication of the research. Reduced revenue inevitably leads to reduced funds available for future research. Fewer startup companies based on such research will exist because it is more difficult to obtain venture capital funding when the underlying research is not protected by patents. Repercussions will be felt by both inventors and administrators.
The bill as currently drafted has provisions that would ultimately improve patent quality by creating a new post-grant opposition period, reduce litigations brought in locations far from the homes of either party, and facilitate research collaborations, all of which are supported by a number of higher education associations, including the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Council on Governmental Relations. Despite the potential positive effect of parts of the bill, the overall impact of the legislation, as currently drafted, would be detrimental to colleges and universities.
The five associations noted above -- all representing university interests in patent reform -- have expressed their views to Congress via both formal testimony and numerous other communications. However, a non-university group, the Coalition for Patent Fairness, has circulated documents purporting to present the views of universities while seriously misrepresenting those views. To help maintain the patent system as a successful engine for innovation, college administrators and researchers need to make their own views on the bill clear to their Congressional representatives.
Higher education institutions should be particularly worried by four provisions of the legislation as currently drafted: those with respect to the determination of damages, mandatory prior art searches, a post-grant “second window” in which to challenge a patent, and the diversion of fees away from the patent office. These provisions will reduce the certainty and value of existing and future patents and will cast doubt on the ability of patent holders to receive proper protection for their inventions. This will undermine the ability of universities to bring their innovations to market and into public use.
Damages. The damages language in the current bill would restrict the ability of courts to apply all of the relevant factors and methods to calculate a proper damages award. Under current law, courts can consider almost any relevant factor under a variety of methods to determine the value of the invention and what damages should be paid to the patentee for infringement. The proposed bill would tell courts what factors to consider under particular circumstances. Despite the occasional headline-making award, courts are quite good at looking at the relevant factors and arriving at a proper damage award. If Congress mandates what factors to consider and what not to consider, courts will be forced to try to categorize inventions and make whatever shape peg is the invention fit into the particular-shaped hole created by the bill. This will result in years of uncertainty and unjustified damage awards as the new law evolves. The cost of such a new law will not only be in unjustified damage awards, but also in increased litigation costs as plaintiffs and defendants demand longer trials to argue about damages and also more appeals on damages issues. This provision will make it difficult for universities to get appropriate compensation when an infringement occurs and will also create tremendous uncertainty as to the value of a patent, thus making patents less valuable overall. Simply stated, the more uncertainty there is as to the value of a patent, the more difficult it is to license the patent and the less revenue a university or inventor will receive for a patent license.
To best represent the interests of colleges and universities nationwide, the damages portion of the Act should be changed so that damages are determined through a case-by-case analysis using appropriate economic factors and valuation methods rather than the restrictive valuation process the bill would impose. Such a change would go a long way toward preserving the economic interests of universities and encouraging further innovation by deterring infringement.
Mandatory search reports. The second problematic provision mandates that patent applicants undertake the expense of prior art searches and submit a search report and relevancy analysis to the patent office (so-called “applicant quality submissions”). While patent applicants are already required to submit prior art known to them, this provision will require an extensive and expensive search by applicants and a report explaining the submitted prior art, thus shifting the costs of such a search from the federal government to the applicants. This burdensome and costly exercise will likely lead to increased charges of inequitable conduct for failure to conduct sufficiently thorough prior art searches and for mischaracterizing the prior art in the relevancy analysis. This will further increase the length and cost of patent trials. By mandating such a search, the Act will make the patent application process even more complicated, more expensive and cause particular harm to non-profit and academic inventors.
Second window oppositions. The third troubling section of the Act relates to the open-ended post-grant review “second window.” The Act calls for a “first window” for post-grant review that allows patent challenges at the patent office within the first 12 months after the patent issues. (This is similar to the European system that provides for such challenges, but during a 9 month window.) However, the Act would also create a “second window” in which to challenge issued patents. This second window will have a detrimental effect on the certainty and value of patents. The second window makes patents susceptible to such challenges throughout the life of the patent, allowing different challengers to file serial challenges that could keep a patent under challenge for many years of its life, thus creating a disincentive for partner companies to license university technologies. It is in the best interest of universities that inter partes reexamination, allowed by the House bill but not by the Senate bill, be available instead of the more costly second window.
Fee diversion. Finally, one of the more troubling aspects of the House bill is the lack of a provision to prevent the diversion of fees collected by the patent office. (The Senate bill includes an anti-fee diversion provision.) Perhaps the single most important factor in improving patent quality is to improve the quality of patent application examination. For many years, the fees collected by the patent office have been diverted to the general treasury. For the past few years, Congress has chosen not to divert fees. However, to build and maintain a sufficiently large and highly qualified pool of experienced examiners, the patent office needs to be assured of consistent funding and not be at the whim of other federal budget requirements from year to year. Anti-fee diversion language should be included in any patent reform bill.
Currently, the full Senate is poised to consider the bill and over a dozen amendments that were proposed last month. But neither the bill nor the amendments remedy the fundamental flaws discussed above.
Lobbying is intense on both sides of the bill and a vote will likely come in the next few weeks. College officials should work to be sure the bill represents the interests of higher education.
Sheldon E. Steinbach and Bruce T. Wieder
Sheldon E. Steinbach is a partner in the postsecondary education practice at Dow Lohnes PLLC, a law firm that specializes in postsecondary education, intellectual property, communications and information technology. The former general counsel for the American Council on Education, he has been practicing higher education law for more than 35 years. Bruce Wieder is a partner at Dow Lohnes, specializing in patent law. A former engineer, he is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and is registered to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The Association of University Technology Managers rejects the view, explicit in the Kauffman proposal and implicit in last month’s federal summit, that the current system of university technology transfer is flawed. AUTM argues that investing more money in the current setup will propel more innovation and commercialization.
We think both sides are wrong in their embrace of the profit motive as a stimulator for university research innovation, and suggest a more fundamental rethinking of the use of commercialization as a way to get academic innovations into the market.
Turning faculty into wild west entrepreneurs as Kauffman’s proposal would do is problematic for several reasons. First, faculty who believe they have the next cure for cancer or tomorrow’s Gatorade (insert professor’s name as a prefix this time and not a university mascot) will confront even greater conflict of interest forces from real or perceived get rich expectations.
Second, it undermines campus collegiality, a building block of innovation, and would significantly undermine campus-based scientific collaborations. Third, the Kauffman proposal assumes that faculty know how or have the time to market themselves externally. Very few faculty are equipped to be effective independent agents of commercialization.
AUTM misses the mark by suggesting the solution is simply to invest more in commercialization activity.
In a recent article published in Change Magazine, we show that only about 65 percent of the universities ever realize a net positive return (revenues that exceeded costs) but that those universities with R&D output below $225 million, 20 licenses per year, and 5 full-time licensing professionals were at a distinct success disadvantage.
In summary, what our research evidenced was the level of investment needed to realize a particular odds-for-success gain and that the marginal benefits of investment fall off noticeably at the above inflection points. Furthermore, our research also revealed that the longer a university subsidized its technology transfer program (i.e., costs exceeding revenues), the less likely it was that the program would ever realize financial success.
As long as university leaders continue to hold unrealistic expectations for revenue generation, they will focus on what the university will “get” rather than on what may be best to develop a technology. There is also plenty of evidence that one byproduct of treating innovation as an intellectual property, rather than an intellectual commons, has been an increase in conflicts of interest, conflict of commitment, and internal equity concerns.
Furthermore, recent research we have conducted suggests that exclusive license deals, a common approach to technology transfer in which a single company is given the rights to a technology, may have a negative effect on their interest in collaborating with others on their research agenda.
Finally, little or no attention has been directed to technology transfer cost containment. The pursuit of financial returns has simply led universities to set up their own operations with little consideration of mission alignment and the diseconomies of scale associated with patenting activity, the high-cost albatross associated with commercialization. Essentially, we believe universities have fallen prey to the allure of the almighty dollar.
A Way Forward
We offer three recommendations for reforming the current system.
First, streamline the licensing process by establishing standard license agreements with small or minimal royalty return expectations and related elements that historically have been noted points of contention with industry. There is little or no evidence that anyone has been able to consistently pick a blockbuster winner from the largely early-stage technologies emerging from universities, so stop treating every licensing deal as if this will be the one.
Second, establish regional consortiums of technology transfer offices built around universities with known expertise and experience and with whom the smaller universities would cycle their commercialization work rather than build up their own infrastructures. These consortiums would enjoy economies of scale, particularly with regard to patent prosecution work, and provide greater centralization for industry attempting to gain access to university innovation. NIH and/or NSF could incentivize the formation of such consortia through a competitive grants program.
Third, why is it important that universities “own the patent,” or even patent as frequently as they do? What if greater provision could be made for industry to own or co-own the patent with appropriate safeguards built in, such as performance milestones for technology development and academic rights to use a technology for research purposes?
This approach to commercialization could free up institutional resources while still recognizing what society expects from its R&D investment in universities. Relatedly, there is growing evidence that universities are over-patenting, making technologies proprietary that then languish in a new place -- the technology transfer office -- rather than the lab bench. Universities would be wise to be more selective about patenting and do more to make industry aware of new technologies through the traditional academic publication and presentation route.
Fredrick Cottrell, UC-Berkeley Professor of Chemistry and father of the first university patent, worried that becoming too involved in patenting and licensing activity would have a negative effect on the openness needed for science to flourish.
One hundred years later, most research universities are actively engaged in such activity with some troubling evidence that it has not all been for the good. Yet, this nation has long relied on higher education’s innovative capacity and thus solutions to these troubling issues must be found while simultaneously speeding the benefits to society.
Rethinking the “profit motive” as the underlying incentive for technology transfer would be a step in the right direction.
Joshua B. Powers and Eric G. Campbell
Joshua B. Powers is chair of the Department of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University. Eric G. Campbell is director of research at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
What is an entrepreneurial university, and how does it address the world’s biggest problems?
It’s a question that we’ve been asked regularly the last few months in the run-up to the recent publication of our book, Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the 21st Century(University of North Carolina Press). We wrote the book because we think this is an important question. Friends of higher education who believe, as we do, that universities are the key to taking the U.S. economy to a prosperous and more egalitarian future need examples and evidence to help make the case for investment in universities and basic research.
But before we attempt to define the entrepreneurial university, let’s agree on what it’s not.
First, it is not a trade school designed to train students how to start or run a commercial activity. Practical “how-to” guides, online tutorials and seminars of all kinds abound and do an excellent job of addressing the nuts and bolts associated with start-ups of all kinds. But that’s not why we need great research universities.
Second, an entrepreneurial university does not involve the wholesale adoption of methods and values from the commercial world. Research universities are unique learning communities that have evolved over hundreds of years. They are important cultural institutions that should not be tampered with lightly. In fact, many of the very traditions and ways of doing things that are part of a university’s culture position it to assume the role of what we call an engine of innovation.
Third, an entrepreneurial university is not merely an assembly line for the creation of new companies. High-impact research aimed at complex problems will inevitably lead to promising enterprises. But most of the hard work will take place outside of academia in a structure and culture better suited to the day-to-day exigencies of a start-up.
Finally, entrepreneurial universities are not economic development authorities. Few within academe are expert at wooing new industry, creating technology hubs or revitalizing old industries. This is not to say that the innovation that takes place at research universities will not lead to economic development in the form of new industries and the reimagining of old ones, especially if such innovation is informed by deep and complex relationships with the private, civic and government sectors. Economic development is a byproduct of the exciting work of the entrepreneurial university. But for the most part, like enterprise creation, the work is done by non-academics and takes place outside of academia.
By now, you know that we don't think a university becomes more entrepreneurial by blowing up centuries of tradition or replacing the expertise and culture that make these institutions great.
On the other hand, we believe that the entrepreneurial university does embody these characteristics:
It recognizes that liberal arts education has fueled American innovation. The largest differentiating factor between international higher education and the U.S. is the breadth of learning. Universities around the world are now attempting to adopt the U.S. liberal arts model. Innovation that addresses major problems facing the world requires an understanding of the human condition, an appreciation of human relations that brings different viewpoints to the table, and a relentless pursuit of collaboration. The study of the humanities and social sciences is critical to the skills and worldview needed by successful entrepreneurs in all sectors. Some proponents of greater commercial activity by universities feel that our broad rubric dilutes the potential focus on seeding high-growth businesses, but we believe that our emphasis on the liberal arts and inclusion of social entrepreneurship strengthens the institutional perspective.
It thrives on big problems. With vast financial and intellectual resources at its disposal, high expectations from donors and funders, and a generation of students committed to making a difference in the world, the entrepreneurial university is naturally attracted to big, complex societal problems and involves the entire community in seeking solutions. An entrepreneurial mindset views these big problems as opportunities and gravitates to them. Such a problem-based focus has a number of advantages. It energizes students, faculty and alumni around a mission that resonates with their values and their ideas about the nature of the university. It encourages multidisciplinary teams that leverage the unique strengths of the entire institution. It connects the academic community with the world outside because complex problems can’t be confronted without interaction with the environments in which they occur and this connection, we believe, makes the work of the academy better. On our own campus and others, a focus on big problems has injected a new vitality and energy as academics and students, out of necessity, venture from their comfort zone to develop new professional relationships in and outside the academic community. Picking what problems to tackle is an important part of the process. There will be a great deal of discussion about this, and ultimately, the best choices will be those that consider a university’s comparative advantages and build upon them.
It values both innovation and execution. With the demise of the great corporate research labs and the practical limitations on the growth of government research institutes, research universities are increasingly being called upon to become primary sources of all kinds of societal innovation. The entrepreneurial university welcomes the challenge. As Peter Drucker, the renown commentator on the subject once said, “Entrepreneurs innovate.” It is in their DNA. When a research university embraces an entrepreneurial mindset, innovation becomes the rule and not the exception. As we talk to colleagues all over the country as well as friends and supporters of our own institution, we have been struck by how innovative many universities have already become and how open many others are to innovative initiatives of all kinds. But innovation without execution has no impact, and academic communities are less comfortable with the day-to-day blocking and tackling required to turn innovation into reality. The culture of an entrepreneurial university embraces and even celebrates great execution and the processes that accompany it. It welcomes objective measurement and benchmarks, it strives for continuous improvement, and it understands that seemingly minor mid-course corrections can result in high-impact innovation. The entrepreneur thrives at the intersection of innovation and execution, and we believe that attention to this space will result in the highest payoff for university communities.
It places culture ahead of structure. When an institution commits to solving important societal problems, the magnitude of the task can be used to move beyond prosaic concerns such as the name of the effort or the department in which it is housed. But absent a concerted effort, research universities, like other large institutions, will place organizational priorities and individual recognition ahead of high-impact problem solving. The entrepreneurial university addresses this problem by focusing on culture ahead of structure. Less time is spent on developing new programs, institutes and departments. More time is spent developing an environment that thrives on problem solving, celebrates risk taking and accepts a certain amount of failure as a necessary component of the learning process. A culture that focuses on big problems is impatient — there is so much to do and so little time. The result is a dramatic change in the institutional conversation where bureaucratic impediments are replaced by innovative compromises.
It encourages partnerships between academics and entrepreneurs. Partnerships between academics and entrepreneurs can produce remarkable results, often exceeding the most optimistic expectations. In fact, many of our most distinguished research universities were founded by such teams. In our own experience, curriculums developed and taught by such teams have proven far superior to those created by one or the other. Similarly, virtually every major university initiative we reference in our book involves academics and entrepreneurs working together. Whether it is Michael Bloomberg working with academics at Johns Hopkins on a worldwide anti-smoking initiative, Pierre and Pam Olmidyar working with Larry Bacow at Tufts on micro-finance, or Gary Parr working with Geoff Sayre-McCord on a center for ethics on our own campus, such partnerships have an impressive track record. It’s not that academics are incapable of envisioning and executing important enterprises but rather that such enterprises can often have dramatically greater impact when an entrepreneurial mindset is injected into the mix.
Our description of the entrepreneurial university is purposely broad because if our ideas have any merit, they will be interpreted and applied differently by any institution that chooses to embrace them. We have already begun the process on our own campus and have concluded that we are engaged in an iterative exercise — more trial and error than grand plan. We are certain we will know much more in a year or two about the challenges associated with implementing some of the principals we have enunciated. To facilitate the conversation among all who are willing to take the plunge, some of our current and former students have established a website — revupinnovation.com. Please join the dialogue as we continue to explore how an entrepreneurial university can impact the world’s big problems.
Holden Thorp and Buck Goldstein
Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Buck Goldstein is entrepreneur in residence at the university.