Creating universities of the 21st Century:… A move towards entrepreneurial academic paradigm

Abdul-Fatahi Abdulai Kambala (PhD)

The economy of the United States of America, incidentally, witnessed industrial crisis in the1960s and 1970s as a result of an upsurge in international competition for goods and services.

Apparently, this was against the backdrop of lack of interactions among institutions that could have offered solutions in terms of knowledge, and later on was identified as a problem for industry.

Ironically, it was subsequently a discovery to note that the build up of research results in universities without any mechanism to transfer to industry as practical outcomes for competitiveness was partly a problem to the crisis.

Fortunately, for the advantage of the ideology of endless frontier for knowledge search through research in universities, the apparent gap noticed in the system was starting to be overcome during the Second World War when research results from universities offered some valuable solutions.

After all, university knowledge was deemed to be more useful afterwards for economic recovery and further development. Luckily, university research was funded through US Government grants without any strings attached. In the short-term at the time, immediate practical uses for research results were not really emphasised, though there was the intention to use government funded research in universities as part of post-war social contract between university scientists and government.

Co-incidentally, this was the time significant discoveries revealed that the billion of dollars of government funds going into universities had the potential for technology transfer for economic development as well.

From this hint, a lot of advocacies were made by politicians and entrepreneurship oriented universities, and academics to allow more interactions for useful research. In actual fact, this is not to ignore the opposition that the proposition to engage university research in economic development faced as a challenge with conservatives, thus, in politics and within academia,

By and large, academic technology transfer was eventually promoted by the federal government with a new law in a coalition, primarily between universities and small businesses. In the United Kingdom on the other side, opposition to capitalisation of intellectual property was not different for the same reasons. Nonetheless, pressure on the Thatcher government in the 1980s to move towards greater ‘enterprise’ development with new policies on intellectual property to ease commercialisation seemed to have also reflected the same situation as in the US.

From above, it would be clear that both economies experienced very similar scenarios with similar challenges in economic development, which pointed to university knowledge creation and entrepreneurship as necessary agents for modern day growth and development. Largely, scientific entrepreneurship activities in universities have since become necessary as a result of the need for improvement in regional and national economic performance and also for the financial advantage of universities, that now attract very little funding from governments for research.

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It is neither here nor there, for example, whether in the US or UK, or even in any struggling economy, a need for a paradigm shift in universities mission arises from both internal development in universities as a result of resource scarcity, and external pressure and influence on academic structures. Indeed, this is associated with the coming into being of the evolution of knowledge-based innovation. In recent times, the momentum towards the establishment of entrepreneurial universities is growing stronger by the day despite concerns that university system may lose rigour and the ability to independently and freely criticise society.

Surely, there is no doubt that the development of entrepreneurial universities poses a lot of institutional and governance questions for institutional actors. Nevertheless, the paradigm shift requires a revised structure of academic system and function to align with national economic growth and development and of course take good care of research and academic teaching as well.

Even with that, the original mandate of teaching and research should be done in new and better ways to capture the full benefits of 21st Century universities. In any case, research has so far shown major changes that are urgent to be made within institutional actors, thus, universities, industry and government, as far as the intent of knowledge production and dissemination are concerned, and use of knowledge for innovation purposes are of paramount essence.

Internal transformation in each institutional actor

With this, relevant institutions and agents concerned with this change need to develop lateral ties with firms in strategic alliances and universities also need develop economic growth and development missions. Principally, all knowledge generation actors will have to increase their ability to influence each other and foster a new overlay of multilateral linkages with one another, first at local levels to manifest the real impact of the any interactions on the larger society.

Academic revolution

For universities to be active rather than behave like any other agent of knowledge and innovation, they must undergo transformation in a major revolutionary shake up. Thus, this should encourage the emergence of an entrepreneurial culture within the realm of academia.

Most of all, it should be characterised by market competition, decentralisation and institutional pluralisms. Definitely, universities need a second academic revolution after research was incorporated into universities’ mission to push the boundaries of knowledge. This was the first revolution when methodologies were added to generate new knowledge to existing knowledge based on necessity.

Certainly, this calls on universities to expand their role once again in innovation diffusion, research commercialisation and entrepreneurship development even beyond the confines of universities campuses. They must redefine new rules to govern the new roles for the accommodation of the entrepreneurial academic paradigm.

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Trans-institutional effect

Also, there is the need to redress and off-set the imbalance between institutions and organisations that have capacities and those that do not. Crucially, industry and governments will also have to do well and foster inter-relative and inter-mediatory capabilities to bring more collaborative interactions for easy understanding among institutional actors.

Interface process

After that, more enhanced capabilities are required with specialists for negotiation of contracts and organised discussions with collaborating partners who have the ability to identify common interests between organisations and universities. Further associations can be created among partners to give impetus to agreements and sustenance of such entrepreneurial paradigm. Certainly, this should positively affect all parts of participating universities including faculties and departments. The result of which are usually technology transfer offices or centres.

Research impact    

Furthermore, the ultimate impact of any interface between actors is the creation of new firms and all forms of business organisations. It also leads to immediate realisation of innovation in the face of competition and core competence building amongst local companies. More so, high levels of institutional collaborations become a routine, and joint ventures and consortia strive to eventually increase regional performance in the economic development of the area. As a matter of fact, every organisation and institution will have enough influence on the other for the good of all and there are always some trickledown effects, where the entire society benefits with influx of high quality goods and low prices.


Lastly, the above account is indicative of the fact that the wind on change is blowing towards a much desired institutional transformation, and one that cannot be overlooked given the current economic and social needs of every nation. Notably, is it obvious that universities now need to depend on the economy through their interactions with industry to survive the hush relativities on the ground. This is how they can fund their operations comfortably without having to depend only on government if they still want to really claim autonomy. They must also take leadership role to identify and guide future trends in the establishment of useful knowledge infrastructure for the production of usable research outcome for the larger society.

The author is a consultant in entrepreneurship and business development, and an expert in university-industry interaction and knowledge transfer for innovation. He is also a co-author for two textbooks: Financial Entrepreneurship for Economic Growth in Emerging Nations, and Innovation and Social Capital in Organisational Ecosystems. Contact: Email:

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