Why the rush to replace Universities with Innoversities …?

“Ireland, or at least the government, is in the grip of a frenzy around entrepreneurship. From local government, through the higher education system, to the highest in the land, hardly a day goes by without some new band jumping on the wagon …” (more)

[Brian M Lucey, 12 July]

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One Response to “Why the rush to replace Universities with Innoversities …?”

  1. Stephen Donoghue Says:

    Dear Professor Lucey,

    i came across your article on twitter and felt obliged to respond. I should indicate I am Irish but work for a Welsh University in technology transfer. I have a PhD in molecular pathology and a law degree.

    Of course you are correct in asserting that there is a huge push to “entrepreneurise” universities, certainly in the common law countries anyway. However, you question why this should be coming from universities. I also realise that the nth level has published a number of posts criticizing this trend.

    I will not comment on your breakdown of SMEs and start-ups. I accept your premise that Ireland is not doing too badly in that field with respect to numbers. I do not have any breakdown of the sectors in the Start-up/SME field but I do know that the IP environment in Ireland has collapsed. That is, our businesses are not engaged in creating an innovation ecosystem. This may not necessarily be too bad, quite often there isn’t a lot of IP in services say. And one of the most innovative sectors, software, has relatively weak IP in the form of copyright anyway.

    In general, however, there is an acknowledgement that the craziness of the last 20 years, in terms of the property bubble, has had a tremendously detrimental impact on the skills in the private sector and their ability to innovate. This is well documented in the Entrepreneurial State by Marianna Mazzucato. The majority of “new drugs” developed by big pharma are “me-toos”. We now have an incredible situation where universities and institutes are developing innovative drugs. These are not just being researched but actually brought to early trials. This is essentially because big pharma is now too risk averse. Like many industries they have become addicted to massive profits enabled by low taxation and schemes to bu shares back. Essentially innovation is a secondary activity. They act more as hedge funds.
    This trend, although extreme in big pharma, is also seen in other industries and sectors. So, my message is true and real innovation is mostly coming out of universities. Without being condescending, this is often difficult for people associated with arts and humanities to comprehend. However, those of us engaged in tech transfer in various fields such as engineering, material science, nanotechnology, genomics, bioinformatics etc. have no difficulty in comprehending this.
    It’s mostly due to a failure of the capitalist system. Everyone, including banks, solicitors, large companies, became too addicted to making easy money through property investment and transfer pricing.
    In my own field there is a technology called synthetic biology. It’s essentially a combination of molecular biology, chemistry and bioengineering. The sector is worth tens of billions in the US but is essentially made up of university spin outs and SMEs from those spin outs. VC funds are investing in these technologies in the US but the important point is that the technology is not coming from well-established firms.
    Finally, I accept Ireland will never be Silicon Valley and has to be selective about which sectors it puts its money into. I handle a lot of the consultancies where I work (its an engineering university so a lot of our engineers consult on various projects). For example, as Ireland does a lot of manufacturing there should be a ready market for consultancy advice in these fields. I was at an Intellectual Property Office event a few months ago and the former Head of Cambridge Tech Transfer spoke and heavilty criticized the nature of the British economy in the last twenty years. Essentially it had not kept up with the universities.

    Kind Regards,


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