Ethiopian Business Review

University-Industry Linkage: A Driving Force for Technology Transfer, Private Business Competitiveness

It takes three to tango; solving the puzzle together It takes three to tango; solving the puzzle together

The main mission of Universities is creation and dissemination of knowledge for the betterment of mankind. Universities acquire knowledge through research and other means, to disseminate it through teaching, publications and professional forums. University-Industry linkage refers to the channels through which knowledge and technology in universities are transferred to the industry to be integrated into products and services.

In today’s global knowledge based economy, continuous research to integrate new technologies into products and services is critical for the existence and competitiveness of enterprises. Through developing new technologies, production process improvement, development of new products and utilization of technologies are what enterprises in the developed and emerging economies are doing; to be leaders in their respective field. These activities are normally performed by consorted effort of industries, universities and governments.

In our country, it is high time for such consorted effort to realize our country’s economic transformation from the traditional trade based economy to knowledge based economy. Universities and other research institutes have to avail new technologies for the industry, government has to avail financial and policy support for research and technology development activities. And industries have to seek new knowledge and invest to acquire technologies. They should also work on integrating new technologies into their products and services.

The basic kind of technological transfer to industries is human embedded technology transfer, which refers to the engagement of labor in the industry with knowledge and technology acquired at the university, mainly through employment of the graduates of the different universities.

In a similar approach technology trans- fer can happen through student internship or industrial internship. This is when students stay in the industry for a given period of time as part of their requirement for graduation. During this time, the students get the opportunity to see real industry problems and come back to their university with the problems as their Universities and other research institutes have to avail new technologies for the industry. graduation project work. These research projects can result in solutions of the different industry problems. The students can also come up with new ideas on processes or product and service quality improvement during their stay in the industry. The effectiveness of this channel depends not only on the efforts of the university, but also the industry or company hosting the students. The coaching individual at the industry has to give time to the students so that they can understand the work and problems in the industry.

Universities and industries can cooperate and do research together on improving the product quality, production process, service quality and new product development for the company based on agreements. The research is performed by professionals from both the university and the industry. This channel is more focused and effective for technology transfer.

University-industry cooperative research undertakings are commonly funded by government agencies or the industry (companies). It is also a model of consorted effort by government, the industry and the universities, the so called triple he- lix, for technological and economical development of the country. This channel is at a very low level in Ethiopia.

Industries and universities can also agree on research projects funded by the industry and done by the university. The research area and objectives, deliverable goals are set in the agreement. Such channels are supplemented with frequent visit to the industry by faculty and discus- sion forums between the industry and the university. This channel is also another focused and effective technology transfer channel. And recently demand from governmental enterprises for establishments of center of excellence and conducting research on their problems is growing.

Normally inventions resulting from government or university funded researches are patented for universities. For such intellectual property, patent licensing is the common formal technology transfer channel. The university can formally transfer the right to use the technology integrating it into process, products and services by the industry, based on some sort of agreement. The industry pays royalty according to the agreement between the two parties. Patent licensing can also be followed by continuous consultation in development of the technology into product or service.

In a different modality the university and industry can tie an agreement on consultancy service at different phases of new technology acquisition and utilization. The consultancy service can be provided during design, construction (manufacturing), testing, operation or maintenance phase of the project.

Universities establish and run Technology Business Incubation (TBI) centers for technology trans- fer and commercialization of their research outputs. TBIs are establishments in which small and micro enterprises are established and nurtured to grow to a full-fledged enterprise. The small and micro enterprises are provided with services to meet their business objectives faster and better and can grow into full-functioning businesses within 3-5 years. Success rate of companies in Technology Business Incubation centers is about 90pct compared to 20pct in a standard market environment. Enterprises graduating from TBI usually move to Science and Technology Parks (S&T parks) which requires relatively larger space and resource. S&T parks are establishments hosting relatively mature enterprises.

Addis Ababa University, for in- stance has plans to start TBI in a pilot format in the fourth quarter of this budget year. It is also working with European Union delegates to establish a Technology Business Incubation center focusing on food and beverage industry in the coming few years.

In developed and emerging countries, there are hundreds of national and international professional conferences per year during which new technological findings by students and professors are presented and discussed. For ex- ample, the institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) is a professional institute with more than 20 societies within it and it sponsors and organizes hundreds of conferences in electrical, Success rate of companies in Technology Business Incubation centers is about 90pctcompared to 20pctin a standard market environment computer science and engineering area, every year, all over the world. Industries closely follow and sponsor such conferences for three reasons. One, they can under- stand the trend of technology and direct their internal research and public domain knowledge. Second, they use the opportunity to recruit graduates who have done practical researches and have some solution for their existing problem and future direction. Third, they use the opportunity to have informal discussion with the academia in area of their interest.

The industry can also invite academicians working in the area of their interest for occasional discussion, lecture or regular consultation. The faculty can also serve the company as regular consultant in its area of expertise. There are substantial amount of members of faculty in different institutions of the country; engaged in industry consultancy service on their own. The construction and manufacturing industry and various NGOs are known to work with AAU faculty members. The Addis Ababa University encourages such activity and tries to support the faculty for a better outcome and impact of the activity.

Normally new findings of researches and new ideas are usually published on professional journals, conference proceedings and other mediums. In developed countries knowledge-based industries closely follow such literature for new ideas and technologies as input to their products and services. In Ethiopia much work is required to improve the relevance of the contents of these journals and to increase their number.

Mengesha Mamo (PhD)

Mengesha Mamo (PhD), is a Japan educated research engineer. He is currently  Director of University-Industry Linkage and Technology Transfer Office at Addis Ababa University. He can be reached at

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