Herdefinitie ‘kenniseconomie’ gewenst

Nieuws | de redactie
29 mei 2007 | Few people know that the Dutch flower region originated directly from the University of Leiden, just after its founding in 1575. The French scientist Clusius planted the first tulip bulbs in the botanical gardens of the university, the so-called Hortus Botanicus. This new source of floral beauty and horticultural knowledge, which originated in Western China, rapidly gained great prestige in Holland and its surrounding countries.

The modes through which this new intellectual property was transferred to the market still look familiar even today: generous donations, lucrative trading but also blatant robbery, laid the foundation for an innovative and world-famous flower cluster. Universities should open their windows and doors to show their discoveries to the world, but they should act as a responsible treasure keeper as well.



Frank Zwetsloot en Roel in’t Veld sluiten met deze historische metafoor- analyse hun boek Connecting Science & Society af. De volledige slotbeschouwing daarvan leest u hier.


Science is an everlasting source of wisdom, inspiration and innovation. The increasing intensity of knowledge-oriented economic processes enforces the arenas of business and policy-making to substantiate their activities. We need to intensify their connections with science, to increase their competency to utilise the new knowledge brought forward, and to develop their ability to raise adequate knowledge questions. This book creates an overview of these connections on different policy levels and in different cultures. Now it is time for some general observations.

The knowledge economy should be better defined

The knowledge economy is proclaimed in Europe to be the motor behind innovation and economic growth. However, it is questionable whether the knowledge economy is indeed a more fundamental change than the “new economy” once was thought to be. Economy is still about creating value in terms of money, and this is a problematic feature for many European universities. In the US, this was accepted a long time ago and they have therefore created effective instruments to stimulate university – business alliances. In China, the development of science and technology was already at the top of the political and economic agendas ten years ago. When the European Lisbon Strategy was proclaimed, politicians focused fully on investments in R&D, while entrepreneurship, interactions with industry and especially university entrepreneurship should have been an integrated part of this strategy. Europe cannot do this alone and should use intercontinental alliances for the commercialisation of its impressive science base. We hope that the founding of a European Research Council will help to create a strategy that positions Europe more positively with respect to the USA and the emerging countries.

Innovation strategies need to be adapted to the nature of the markets

Innovation strategies tend to be political.  One of the messages of this book is that the differences in economic development in the US, Europe and the emerging economies are so large and meaningful that one could hardly produce a single relevant general statement on effective innovation policies. The contribution, in this book, from China made it clear that it needs to create alliances with the West, not only to develop its science and technology, but even for the creation of sound commercial businesses. In the US, companies and markets are so strong that they can afford to combine free market mechanisms with strict regulations, providing for small companies and universities to together create science-based businesses as well. Also, in the US, defence investments are another strong force behind innovation. In Europe we see corporatist models bringing together investments of universities, governments and business in joint research. The dominance of governmental roles in the innovation processes seems to be inversely related to the strength of their businesses and markets. If Peter Nijkamp’s model can be adapted to these different market structures, it will be helpful in developing future regional and national innovation policies.  

Trying to find or create new science-based markets

Some countries have seen how the application of research or discoveries can lead to the search for new markets, as their home-market is simply not big enough. We have seen the IMEC institute in Belgium that created a cluster of international business partners around itself. We see Finnish researchers trying to commercialise their new technologies in all parts of the world. If the home market is not big enough, new markets have to be sought abroad. An even more challenging observation comes from Esko Aho stating that Europe should create new markets. This is not impossible. Many people believe that the Bayh Doyle Act, that involved universities and small companies in the exploitation of university intellectual property, has directly led to the development of the biotechnology industry. The next observation is that, if science-based businesses want to become a serious industry, they need to be creative enough to create new markets as well. Moreover, the examples of Aho, Stough and Etzkowitz indicate that regional stakeholders have sometimes created new clusters through a concise joint strategy.  

Universities should internalise their external strategies

Some authors gave us insight into the way that some of the best universities in Europe have organised their connections with society. This did not always come easily, although the best research universities in the world will always have business waiting for their outcomes. It is also challenging to see how less-established universities develop themselves and their regions, without carrying such a glorious past. Some universities have dared to take up the gauntlet and have created institutional entrepreneurship momentum for themselves. They have successfully generated investments in their research and education and, as a result of this, their scientific quality has risen too. It should not be a bad thing for a university, or its researchers, to make money through sound external alliances. It should even be encouraged. But new profits come with new rules, especially in the public domain. Therefore, the universities and researchers should be held clearly accountable for how they generate this income and what they do with it, and also for preventing unfair competition. Preferably, these elements should be part of the universities’ core strategy, defining their relation with society.  

Professionalize the interactive process

A unique element of university research is the great freedom and independence of the individual researcher. Many external stakeholders know this and may greatly benefit from his or her will to share new knowledge with the outside world. Universities should create structures to stimulate this, without doing harm to innovation processes. A Grace Period could be part of this, giving scientists the right to publish and then to patent.

University faculty should professionalise its alliances with external stakeholders in order get a realistic view of the value scientists may have created and to help them to realise this. The university should give clear guidelines to such intermediary structures and embed them in the abovementioned strategy.

This should include a view on the borderline where the commercialisation process should be taken over by external parties. In this context it makes sense to notice that the traditional financing of scientific research is not always fitting with this new discipline of research driven entrepreneurs.

The role of government as a user of science should be professionalized as well

Governments play several different roles in their interactions with universities. In addition to their facilitating role (as financers), they also act as users of scientific knowledge and in the stimulation of innovation through the procurement of public works. In the USA, a law that stimulates this process is SBIR, which has been copied in many countries in Europe.

The way governments stimulate structural interaction with social sciences to substantiate their policies needs more attention We have seen ministries making choices and initiating programmes on applied research that were not embedded in a broader knowledge strategy. Often, political and scientific priorities are conflicting and the policy-makers involved are caught in the middle. Programming of applied research by governmental policy- makers should become a separate competence, either provided by so-called boundary workers or acquired by civil servants themselves. International education would be the optimal preparation for these policy- makers because it would remove them, temporarily, from their national political environment.

Let us conclude with an example from our own region. Few people know that the Dutch flower region originated directly from the University of Leiden, just after its founding in 1575. The French scientist Clusius planted the first tulip bulbs in the botanical gardens of the university, the so-called Hortus Botanicus. This new source of floral beauty and horticultural knowledge, which originated in Western China, rapidly gained great prestige in Holland and its surrounding countries. The modes through which this new intellectual property was transferred to the market still look familiar even today: generous donations, lucrative trading but also blatant robbery, laid the foundation for an innovative and world-famous flower cluster. Universities should open their windows and doors to show their discoveries to the world, but they should act as a responsible treasure keeper as well.






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