Universities urged to develop links with industry

Arab countries will only be able to embrace the knowledge economy and sustainable development by strengthening their capacity for innovation, which is hindered by the weak links between academia and industry.

As a result, most Arab universities are failing to produce graduates with the skills they need to find work in industry.

This was the main message to come out of two Arab conferences held this month. The first concerned universities and industry under the title "The Role of the University in Economic Development" and was held in Mansoura, a small city in Egypt.

The second was titled "Strengthening University-Industry Interaction" and was held at An-Najah National University in Nablus in Palestine a week later.

The main message from both conferences was that the weak links between universities and industry were the vital reason for Arab states falling far behind in building knowledge economies. This was also outlined in the Arab Knowledge Economy Report 2014, published last December.

The conferences called for several measures to help build such links, including enhancing science and technology entrepreneurship; education programmes; promoting a university enterprise cooperation culture; and establishing national and regional networks between communities of universities and businesses.

Links with manufacturing sector

Egypt's conference indicated that universities and other higher education institutions must create strong links with the manufacturing sector which requires the skills and knowledge of their graduates in their enterprises to increase productivity.

Besides supporting efficient technology and knowledge transfer from university to industry through setting up start-ups and spin-off companies along with incubators and science parks, the conferences called for support for university-business cooperation through the promotion of partnerships, incentives and establishing networks.

In order to develop research partnerships between universities and industry, innovation centres must be established within Arab universities to transfer research findings into products and services, participants were told.

These centres will help the university to lead the innovation process from the research stage to the prototype and commercialization, and produce technical solutions to local industrial problems.

As the report UNESCO Science Report 2010: The current status of science around the world indicated, university research in the Arab world often serves purely academic purposes.

The two conferences called for research projects to be re-oriented towards a problem-solving approach, and for the development of the skills that companies need by modifying the curricula of the Arab region’s universities.

A 2013 report, Transforming Arab Economies: Travelling the knowledge and innovation road, called for the preparation of a better-educated and more highly skilled Arab population. It advocated improving Arab nations’ capabilities for innovation and research by adopting bold approaches tailored to each country’s challenges and opportunities.

The two conferences called for training programmes in innovation and enterprise development in higher education institutions to help build knowledge and skills for economic development.

They also proposed developing policy and creating an enabling environment for managing intellectual property rights in universities so as to establish a balance between commercially funded research and entrepreneurship at universities – as well as public access to research generated with public funds.