In the Finnish innovation system, cooperation between research organisations and companies has played a key role in growth and renewal. Compared to other European countries, Finland has achieved high levels of interaction between research and business, but this trend has been on the decline. This is the finding of a report carried out by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University of Tampere and published by the Finnish Research Impact Foundation.
Over the last decade, the quantity and relative weight of research funded by companies have decreased considerably in the project portfolios of higher education institutions. The reasons for the reduction in cooperation, at least in terms of the quantities of money involved, are no doubt diverse in nature. Structures, processes and interaction all play a key role in the success of cooperation between higher education institutions and companies, as well as in influencing and supporting such cooperation.
This declining trend has also been observed at the University of Oulu. Companies purchase fewer research services and their contribution to competitive research funding projects is smaller than before.
One initiative for turning the trend back in an upward direction was the launch of the University Innovation Centre (UIC) at the start of 2019 in cooperation with Oulu University of Applied Sciences. The University Innovation Centre focuses on developing higher education institutions' business activities, IPR services and licensing, and coordination of cooperation with companies. In addition, CRM software was introduced in the university's customer relationship management, and its use has since been further expanded.
At the University of Oulu, cooperation with companies mainly takes place in research units and degree programmes, but also to an increasing extent in education services, the Extension School and Tellus. Last year, the university adopted an operating model for cooperation with companies. The model is a clear, pragmatic and coherent operating model through which we can increase, improve and systematise the means for goal-oriented cooperation, and it is also a model that our staff can commit to. In this model, we package the university's offering in a single platform and organise the marketing for it.
As part of the operating model, we have introduced the key account manager (KAM) job role across the whole university as of the beginning of this year. Each faculty and innovation centre has 1–2 account managers. Key account managers take care of the university's most important customer relationships and approach the most attractive potential customers. In addition, they spar each other in the challenges of business cooperation and act as channels between the different customer needs and the research expertise. Each key account manager gathers around themselves a network of researchers and specialists in order to carry out their sales and customer relationship work.
It is important that researchers engaged in cooperation with companies feel that the work is meaningful and that the cooperation is also rewarded. Cooperation can also benefit researchers in many intangible ways, and communications aimed at highlighting these intangible benefits are also an important part of the development work.
The aim of the University of Oulu is to achieve a situation in which researchers actively engage in cooperation with companies as part of a goal-orientated research career. Our university has significant expertise and by paying attention to structures, processes and interaction that support cooperation with companies, we want to be more involved in the future in creating innovations based on scientific knowledge.
Vice Rector for Cooperation, University of Oulu
Last updated: 25.2.2021