PRESIDENT’S CORNER – The Wisdom of the University

Henry Etzkowitz President

Triple Helix Association
International Triple Helix Institute
*email address protected*



The university is a flexible organizational format with the capacity to align multiple missions that may often seem to be in conflict. The university’s external relations are particularly fraught, especially since the university is often viewed, by both insiders and outsiders, as a relatively isolated institution, standing apart from the rest of society. Development of a university model to encompass its relationship to the broader society is shaped by existing academic capacity and future intention. A teaching university will tend to focus on transfer of knowledge; a research university on transfer of technology, and an entrepreneurial university on forming firms. Just as a research university may encompass the educational mission of the teaching university; the entrepreneurial university may include the previous two missions in its remit.
These expansions of academic remit are by no means un.controversial. Indeed, by legitimating multiple competencies as part of the university’s evolution; they run counter to the received wisdom in the industrial sphere to focus on a core competency. Indeed, some observers have called for such academic specialization but experiments either gradually expanded their remit, quickly returned to a broader model or subsisted as a relatively minor academic sphere. The university has grown as a multi-function institutional format because it has proved both more efficacious and creative for diverse missions to infuse and support the others.
Ever since the acceptance of the Humboldtian model of integration of research and teaching, from the late nineteenth century; the university has been an expansive institution, synthesizing new disciplines from elements of old ones and aspects of industry and government practice, for example computer science and international relations. Its basic organizational formats of lecture, seminar, research group, have proved amenable to the dissemination and advancement of organized knowledge and most recently to their extension into putting knowledge to use. For example, within the research group, an organizational format of a “quasi-firm” has been identified, with entrepreneurial capacities, that placed the university in closer contiguity to industry than appeared on the surface.



In conceptualizing the role of the university in society, much depends on the stance, whether positive or negative, towards the university’s relationship to industry and government. This attitude often hinges on the perception of the university’s relative strength with respect to its interlocutors. If the university is viewed as relatively weak, then the tendency will be support an isolated academic model to protect the university from untoward influence. Such a model fails to sufficiently take into account that the conditions of interaction have changed as the university has become more salient to future economic growth and societal development in the transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based society.  The balance of power in university-industry relations has shifted to the holder of the most highly valued good -innovative knowledge with high capitalization potential, a good that the university due to its special institutional features -such as regular and relatively rapid flow -through of human resources, through admission and graduation procedures, and requirements for novelty, even if not always realized, as a condition of granting a PhD -is especially capable of producing. Increasingly, an assumption of imbalanced interaction in which the university acts as a distributor of “free goods” is replaced by one in which the university negotiates its relationship from a position of relative strength.


The university’s relationship with government was restructured in the early phases of the transition to a knowledge-based society, with the infusion of large sums, through various mechanisms into the academic enterprise, at least in the US where the entrepreneurial university phenomenon first appeared. This transformation largely occurred on terms set by academic leaders who had gained a significant role in government at the onset of the Second World War on the premise that weapons based upon advanced academic research would be salient to the outcome of the coming conflict. While relationship to government, especially in
terms of funding, had been rejected in an earlier era, after the war.time experience of access to and control of research funding and itsdirection, the academic perception of government changed, especially on the part of those academics involved in war-time research projects.
In the post-war, government research support, often supplied by agencies specially created for the purpose, had become incorporated into the taken for granted definition of the research university. Despite the rise of laissez-faire ideology, and even because of it, academic research support has been given an exemption from neo-liberal campaigns against government. In recent years, impelled on the one hand by university rankings and recognition of the university as a potential source of innovation, a similar process of academic aggregation of resources has been set in motion across the globe. Despite austerity pressures, various countries, including Germany, France, Russia and China, have offered relatively large funds to a small set of universities to improve their quality. Sometimes, these specific subsidies are accompanied by targeted research programs to create foci of excellence within and among academia and industry.


The relationship of the university to industry, although possiblyolder than the question of its link to government is less resolved, perhaps because it has undergone more perturbations given that industry has itself been transformed in the course of several revolutions. There is a tendency to ignore the transformation ofthe university’s role in a knowledge based society, leading to out ofdate conceptualizations based either on a perception of industry as dominating the relationship or the university as irrelevant because it has not kept up with the pace of knowledge development and therefore must identify other bases on which to make a societal contribution.



On the one side, there is the “engaged university,” primarily an expression of the teaching university that encourages interaction with the external world, especially on non-industrial topics. The formulation has also been utilized by research universities that wish to limit their interaction with industry but, nevertheless, demonstrate social contribution. On the other side, is the corporate university, a dystopian model that expresses a desire for disengagement from the industrial sphere out of concern that it willbe diverted from its academic mission.
These concepts hinge on: (a) whether the external world shouldbe kept at bay or directly involved in academic experience; and (b)or whether university involvement with society should primarily be based on relationships to civil society rather than having an economic focus.



The “corporate university” is a negative model posited by critics of university-industry relations that fear the subsumption of the university into the corporate sphere, with consequent loss of
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independence. The model is abstracted from the traditional relationship of established companies to academia in which individual academics, if not the university as a whole, are offered contracts to perform specific pieces of research as part of a company’s research program, typically to reduce internal costs. Rather than seeing this relationship receding in the face of new models of industrial interaction in which academics extend themselves into the industrial sphere rather than vice versa; it is viewed as a dominant model in the future, even if not yet realized.
The engaged university is an expression of the university’seducational role. It may be set forth by research as well as teaching universities; by teaching universities to demonstrate their relevance to society in the relative absence of research contributions and by research university’s that wish to show societal involvement and contribution while “ring fencing” their research activities from potential pollution by industrial interaction, whether of the newer or older varieties. The engaged university model especially focuses on the university’s involvement with civil society, especially in ameliorating social ills. This concept highlights the service function of the university, in response to the first industrial revolution, responding to and mitigating the ills of industrial society, exemplified by the university originated settlement house movement of the late nineteenth century in the UK and US to assist immigrant assimilation and working class education. A recent explication of this model, offers as an example a university’seducation school, devising methods of reducing childrens’ schoolyard fights.



The Entrepreneurial university is a relatively new concept, an expression of the knowledge-based era in which other institutionalspheres become more dependent on the university (Etzkowitz, 1983). Indeed, the university as the source of new industries and firms plays an increasingly central role in the Triple Helix(Etzkowitz and Zhou, 2017). Each concept is an expression ofdifferent stages of university development and attitudes towards their respective missions: the engaged university of the teaching university; the corporate university of the research university ofthe first academic revolution, and the entrepreneurial university ofthe Second Academic Revolution. Ultimately, there is little or no inherent conflict as the entrepreneurial university incorporates the teaching and research missions of its predecessor models.
The wisdom of the university is that the three concepts are potentially compatible. A university may be “engaged” and interact with society through its educational mission and be entrepreneurial, contributing new ventures to its regions. Moreover, the “corporate university” model serves as a warning to take care to protect their interests when negotiations with large corporations. Rather than making agreements for large projects with individual firms, becoming tied to a single firm in any industry, use models for joint participation with various companies in a pre.competitive research center.
Academic missions are themselves a function of societal transformations with an educational mission appearing as a precursor of transcendence of the medieval period and midwife to the birth of the modern era; a research mission appearing as a concomitant of the Second Industrial Revolution and an entrepreneurial mission as part of the transition from an industrialto a knowledge-based society.
The above are broad outlines of the first and second academic revolutions that conceptualize these transformations of the university that are by no means clear cut in time, space, or sequence. Nevertheless, they have spread throughout the academic world in a variety of instantiations that are increasinglymapped and measured.

Etzkowitz, H. (1983) Entrepreneurial Scientists and Entrepreneurial Universities in American, Academic Science Minerva 21 (2-3): 198-233.
Etzkowitz, H and Chunyan Zhou. (2017) The Triple Helix: University.Industry-Government Innovation and Entrepreneurship, London:Routledge [2nd Edition].