In the intricate dance of progress, academia and industry often find themselves on separate stages, each performing to its unique tune. While academia seeks to expand knowledge and foster innovation, industry strives for growth and economic prosperity. These differing objectives, often intensified in developing countries, create a noticeable chasm between these two worlds. In Ghana, this gap is particularly pronounced. The rapid growth of the education sector, a burgeoning economy, and the ever-accelerating pace of change in the external environment have made it imperative for academia and industry to come together to tackle real-world challenges collaboratively.
Professor Lawrence Ezemonye calls the disconnect between academia and industry as “Valley of Death”. Speaking at forum at the Landcaster Ghana University, the Professor argue that the “Valley of Death “is the valley of unemployment, the valley of unemployability, the valley of no new products”. Academic institutions are supposed to undertake market relevant research and supply industry with data to support decision making. In the absence of the reliable market data, business managers frequently make suboptimal managerial choices, leading to operational complications such as reduced service quality and customer attrition, eventually resulting in business closures. Among other things, this contributes to the reasons why about 50% of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in Ghana do not survive beyond their initial five years.
Academic institutions are often criticized for not undertaking industry-relevant research. But the point is that the funding for research is as important as the quality of the research output. Developed countries see research as an integral aspect of industry and economic growth and as results invest substantial amount in it. For example, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the total value of collaborative research and development projects between UK universities and businesses was £1.8 billion in 2018/19. This figure does not include the value of sponsorship. These collaborations was instrumental in advancing technology and innovation in the UK. In 2020, a report by the South African Research Chair in Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy estimated that collaboration and sponsorship between academia and industries in South Africa were worth approximately R1.5 billion (USD 100 million) in 2018. This substantial investment underlines the commitment to driving innovation and growth through collaboration. It is important to mention that, to show the commitment to research, the South African Government in 2006 established research chair in every public university. The Government designed this policy to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities with a long-term investment trajectory of up to fifteen years.
Additionally, in the United States, universities are increasingly engaged in collaborative research endeavors with industries. The median industry research income across 181 US universities in THE World University Rankings 2021 was $9,400 USD per academic staff member, highlighting the vast financial and intellectual resources devoted to fostering innovation. Comparatively, the average researcher in Ghana receives annual budget allocation of about US$1,600 from the government. Obviously, the disparities in the financial commitments among countries are reflected in the quality of research output.
In recent times, there has been an increase in academic collaboration between industry and academia. However, there is still significant potential for more firms to embrace such collaborations to strengthen their relationships. Notable examples of industry and academic collaboration in Ghana include partnerships between UPSA and the Ghana Armed Forces, UPSA and Ecobank, Takoradi Technical University and the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, KNUST and the Mastercard Foundation, Ashesi University and the Mastercard Foundation, the University of Ghana and Toyota Ghana Limited, and the University of Cape Coast and Hollard Group Ghana, among others. Additionally, GNPC, GIZ, the Mastercard Foundation, and the Bank of Ghana have all signed various Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with academic institutions to support research and innovation within the country.
Mutual Benefits of Academic and Industry collaborations
Academia and industry can achieve more by collaborating. Partnering with academia offers numerous benefits to industries across various sectors. Collaboration between industries and academia offers a multitude of advantages. Firstly, it provides industries with access to cutting-edge research and innovation generated within universities and research institutions. This access empowers companies to leverage the latest findings to develop competitive products, processes, or technologies.
Secondly, it addresses the issue of employability skills among students. By closely collaborating with universities, industries can actively contribute to shaping curricula and providing students with the practical knowledge and skills they need for the real world. This helps bridge the gap between academic education and industry requirements, ensuring that graduates are well-prepared for the job market.
Additionally, academia can serve as a valuable resource for problem-solving and research and development (R&D) support. Collaborating with academic institutions enables industries to tackle complex problems and develop innovative solutions, ultimately enhancing product quality and efficiency. Furthermore, the diverse skill sets found among academic researchers, spanning various disciplines from engineering to business, offer industries a rich pool of expertise to draw upon.
Moreover, partnering with academia can yield market insights, as universities often conduct market research and studies. These insights inform industries’ decision-making processes related to product development, marketing strategies, and expansion plans. Lastly, such collaborations enhance a company’s corporate image by demonstrating a commitment to education, research, and societal progress. This positive brand perception, fostered by engagement with academia, can contribute to a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and overall reputation.
The UPSA Approach…
The University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA), is taking a pioneering approach to bridge this gap. Through the Faculty of Accounting and Finance (FAF), UPSA has launched the FAF Innovate+ Projects, a transformative initiative aimed at developing cutting-edge business solutions to promote the growth of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Ghana. Among its diverse objectives, the faculty has established a dedicated division focused on scaling SME trainings, implementing turnaround business strategies, upscaling SMEs’ tax compliance, conducting market research, exploring new product developments, and enhancing corporate governance audit and strategies.
Recognizing the significance of harmonizing academia and industry, the Faculty of Accounting and Finance at UPSA is excited to introduce an upcoming event, “A Night with CEOs.” This event is not just a celebration of the accomplishments of Ghanaian CEOs and business leaders; it’s a platform for fostering meaningful dialogue and forging partnerships to bridge the gap between these two essential pillars of our society.
“A Night with CEOs” has ambitious objectives:
- Celebrating Excellence: It seeks to honor the achievements of Ghanaian CEOs and business leaders who have made remarkable contributions to the growth and success of their respective industries. This event acknowledges their dedication, innovation, and the positive impact they have had on Ghana’s business landscape.
- Fostering Collaboration: By bringing together academia and industry, the event aims to facilitate productive discussions, exchange of ideas, and collaborations that can drive innovation and address real-world challenges. It’s an opportunity for these two worlds to learn from each other and find common ground.
- Knowledge Exchange: The event provides a platform for sharing insights, experiences, and best practices between academia and industry leaders. This two-way flow of knowledge can lead to the development of industry-relevant curricula and innovative solutions to complex problems.
- Inspiring Future Leaders: Interactions with accomplished CEOs and business leaders can inspire the next generation of professionals and entrepreneurs. It’s a chance for students and emerging entrepreneurs to gain valuable mentorship and guidance, encouraging them to pursue ambitious goals.
The event promises a rich and diverse program, including an awards ceremony to recognize outstanding Ghanaian CEOs and business leaders, panel discussions featuring distinguished speakers from academia and industry, keynote addresses by prominent figures in both spheres, and a networking gala dinner. This gathering will be an opportunity for attendees to connect, exchange ideas, and establish valuable professional relationships in an elegant and celebratory atmosphere.
Through initiatives like “A Night with CEOs” and the FAF Innovate+ Projects, UPSA is taking concrete steps to close the gap between academia and industry, fostering collaboration that promises to drive innovation, inspire future leaders, and contribute to the growth and development of Ghana’s business landscape. This journey marks a significant stride towards a more connected and mutually beneficial future for these two essential pillars of society.
The writer is a Senior Lecturer ,Banking and Finance Department ,University of Professional Studies, Accra