Better support for innovation requires powerful policies
21 proposals that presuppose powerful political resolve. Curt Karlsson, University Director at Linköping University (LiU) and government investigator, has completed an interim report on the university’s system for innovation support.
The report will be the basis for the government’s future proposition on research and innovation.
“Operations that support innovation at higher education institutions (HEI’s)” offers 21 concrete suggestions, from:
- changes to legislation
- demands for basic funding and access to holding companies
- a new approach to the role of universities in innovation work
- a revaluation of qualification assessment in academia
- fresh ideas on education – focused on the students as potential innovators."
Curt Karlsson occasionally makes bold statements, but not without a sense of humour: non-existent resources for a non-existent assignment – this has been the situation for a long time. Unusually imperfect prerequisites.
So there is great potential for improvement.
“HEI's should be given the prerequisites and responsibility to be active subjects regarding economic policy instead of, as has been the case to date, essentially playing the role of objects, controlled by all kinds of economic policy actors in their surroundings,” he writes in the introductory summary.
Despite a somewhat vague starting point, HEI’s have exceeded expectations with their handling of innovations. Karlsson explains:
“That’s probably what surprised me most during the course of the report; that so much is being done and the presence of such inventiveness, especially at smaller universities. My own views on the matter have lagged behind.”
The world around us retains strong expectations that HEI’s should contribute to growth via innovation. So it is high time that our centres of learning receive a clear commission on order to take responsibility for the initial part of the innovation process as well as funding to sort it out.
The latest research proposition included resources (SEK 73 million for the current year) to start a number of innovation offices, including InnovationskontorETT, which is based at LiU. Otherwise, innovation support has been dependent on external financing and to a certain degree the imagination of the universities. Innovation work has been performed as part of what is termed the “third task” which has never had its own financing.
The report suggests an increase of basic resources from SEK 0 to SEK 400 million. Does that sound difficult? Karlsson replies:
“Yes, there’s room for powerful policies. Basic resources of that order will be needed. However it is possible to spread the total sum over several years during the proposition period.”
However, it isn’t the suggestion of new basic resources that he believes may meet with opposition.
“It’s more likely to be the idea of letting the HEI’s lead the innovation process and no longer be dependent on regional actors. The state isn’t fully responsible, often the county councils, municipalities and a number of private actors are involved and they all have their interests to protect."
The HEI’s should be afforded a statutory independent role with effective confidentiality. In line with this is the proposal for a new role for the holding companies, including abolishing profit requirements.
“They are a kind of company that typically sustain a loss. It would be ridiculous to expect anything else. They should be classified as companies, with predominantly social missions, and a focus on economic policy, just like investors such as Innovationsbron or the venture capital firm Almi.”
Today all HEI’s do not have access to holding companies, and investigator Karlsson demands that this is changed.
“Operating under civil law with no holding company must be like trying to eat your dinner with both hands tied behind your back,” he says.
Some of the suggestions presuppose changes in the law, new directives, changes to letters of regulation or initiatives at the highest political level, while others presuppose a change in approach.
So far the systems for innovation support have primarily been focused on commercialising research results, but here Karlsson wants to broaden the perspective and partly shift the focus from the researchers as the bearers of ideas to the students. He clarifies:
“They, if anyone, must be seen as future innovators. So all programmes must contain courses or elements that provide the students with knowledge and stimulation to start their own companies. Some universities have already invested in entrepreneurship; at artistic universities – like Konstfack (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) for example – it is natural that the students generate their own work opportunities."
Another group that is “strategically important” as the basis for recruitment of entrepreneurs is doctoral students, their education must also stimulate innovative thinking to a greater degree.
And for senior researchers the alternative to work with commercialisation has hardly been considered an option compared to their research assignments.
“Today there is virtually a complete lack of incentive for employees to contribute to innovation work. This must change. Successful initiatives must be rewarded with promotion, wages or when allocating resources internally,” says Karlsson.
For the investigation work, all of the HEI’s and holding companies have examined their operations, and a reference group participated with representatives from:
- holding companies
- Sweden’s innovation agency (Vinnova)
- Research Institutes of Sweden Holding AB (RISE)
The results have been presented at a number of consultation meetings with authorities and organisations outside the university.
What support have you received for your suggestions so far? You write that they were “received with great enthusiasm.”
“I think that they are well established. There is really nothing that could prevent these proposals from being undertaken. What is needed first and foremost is a willingness to make political decisions.”
Footnote: The report will be submitted to the Ministry of Education and Research on 1 June at the latest, after which it will be made public.
- Curt Karlsson
- Innovationsbron (In Swedish only)
- Konstfack (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design)
- Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA)
- Research Institutes of Sweden Holding AB (RISE)
- Swedish Ministry of Education and Research
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Last updated: 2013-06-18