The basis for socially significant new growth can be found in cooperation between universities and companies - deepening and sustainable collaboration is crucial
Many companies face the big challenge of getting their products, operations and expertise to meet the challenges of the new post-corona era.
In our book on the success story of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS), we compiled more than 50 examples of higher education institutions' operating models. Sustainable and deepening university-business collaboration was essential to all the successful practices. Not all companies have realized this advantage yet, a significant number of companies seem to be overshadowed.
In a survey which is presented in our book, we identified fifteen different forms of business collaboration. In most cases, the collaboration seems to start with internships, themes for the theses and student projects offered to individual students.
Student projects are carried out as part of studies in various degree programmes. The practical work in a student project is well illustrated by a project in which Metropolia UAS’s students in Fashion and Clothing Degree Programme implemented a new collection for Pumpik Design Oy, a manufacturer of children's clothing. The student teams both designed and zoned, dimensioned, instructed and manufactured the products. They were also launching the collection at the Play Time Fair in Paris.
As the collaboration between a company and a university progresses into a longer-term partnership, it takes systematic forms and the benefits to the company increase. At the heart of the collaboration is an annual plan based on the company's needs, which may include e.g. recruitment services and project cooperation. For example, Haaga-Helia UAS has also had a partnership model suitable for SMEs for many years.
The deepening of business collaboration seemed to be advancing in higher education institutions from a single degree program or cooperation in a field of education towards a university-wide partnership. The same deepening was also evident in the company: the cooperation initiated by an individual or unit at its best progressed to the level of management and management teams. The company's managers could also be actively involved in the restructuring of the entire industry or in regional development measures. At Haaga-Helia UAS, the management team of the project, which aimed to develop sales training and increase its appreciation, included the CEOs of both Canon Oy Ltd (Finland) and Haaga-Helia UAS.
According to our survey the deepening co-operation seemed to lead to the increase of collaboration. For example, Turku UAS has been cooperating with Valmet Automotive Ltd for several years. In addition to traditional guest lectures and factory visits, the collaboration includes deeper research and development activities and the skills development of staff members. A prominent form of the collaboration is the eRallycross electric car, a living lab test environment, which brings together students from different degree programmes to develop the car. All collaboration is based on a strategic partnership agreement and a more detailed action plan.
Cooperation can also be expanded to develop the whole industry. For example, Metropolia UAS has created sectoral innovation clusters. Of these, the innovation hub operating in the construction and build environment sector supports data-driven approach where digitalisation is utilized for the needs of the industry. Correspondingly, Kajaani UAS has created a gaming industry cluster in Kainuu region together with the players of the businesses in the field.
The UASs provide also specific business services for the companies. At Laurea UAS, a special Study Coach gets acquainted with the company's development needs and looks for the suitable solutions. As a proof of competence, it is also possible to obtain a certificate that indicates the professionalism of the employee. Moreover, Metropolia UAS's ICT Testing Center is a certified test center of Pearson VUE, Kryterion, PSI and Castle.
Higher education institutions have also flexibly organized new operating models to support the recovery of companies in the Covid19 era. For example, Haaga-Helia UAS's experts respond to the needs of small businesses by providing free consulting in applying for emergency financing from the government.
Higher education institutions also offer commercialized services provided by the teachers and experts. Service providers are e.g. Metropolia's Welding Laboratory and Refrigeration Laboratory and Haaga-Helia's Sales & eCom Lab for sales development.
According to our survey, the international activities of higher education institutions appeared to be under-utilized by companies. Many of the Finnish UASs may have more than 200 university partners all over the world, and increasingly even international strategic partnerships. In Finland, there are about 10,000 foreign degree programme students with close contacts to their home countries. These contacts could be utilized in co-operation in mapping and developing export opportunities for the Finnish companies.
When setting a foundation for the new growth, the companies could get remarkable advantage if they adopt the available development expertise and services of the UASs.
Laakso-Manninen, Ritva & Tuomi, Lauri (2020) Professional Higher Education Management. Best practices from Finland. Helsinki. Professional Publishing Finland Ltd.
Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences https://www.haaga-helia.fi
Kajaani University of Applied Sciences https://kamk.fi
Laurea University of Applied Sciences https://laurea.fi
Metropolia University of Applied Sciences https://metropolia.fi
Turku University of Applied Sciences https://turkuamk.fi
The article was first published in Finnish in Kauppalehti 19.10.2020