Partnerships – A grand but rewarding challenge

South African higher education institutions should demand respect from prospective partners and ensure that partnerships are mutually beneficial and reciprocal, the recent South African Technology Network conference heard.

Speaking as part of a round-table panel focused on “How to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Professor Ronald Quincy, academic director of Rutgers Civic Leadership Institute based at Rutgers University in New Jersey, United States said it was important that institutions understand “who they are as institutions” and what value they bring. He also said they should not be overly concerned about what was happening in the United States, Europe or elsewhere.

Quincy, who is also involved in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders and is a visiting senior fellow for diversity studies at the John J Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, picked up on these themes when he formally addressed the conference the following day on the topic of industry-university partnerships (‘The Grand Challenge’), with particular focus on Rutgers University’s partnership with Johnson & Johnson, the multinational pharmaceutical and medical devices company.

The 125-year long collaboration between Rutgers University – the 8th oldest university in the United States with 70,000 students and an annual budget of US$4.8 billion – and Johnson & Johnson has seen the establishment of the Rutgers Honors College to increase the number of female graduates in STEM disciplines. The university also offers Byrne Seminars on leadership, new product planning and other subjects taught by Johnson & Johnson corporate leaders.

‘Extraordinary’ benefits

“The benefits for students are extraordinary, because the industry teachers bring vast real-world experience into the classroom,” he said.

Quincy said in addition to the Johnson & Johnson partnership, Rutgers has a large and growing research enterprise as a result of industry partnerships. Patents emerging from these collaborations currently generate more than US$30 million per year. This was less than the US$100 million generated by other large universities in the country but more than Princeton and other state universities in the area.

The growth in industry-university partnerships in the United States was facilitated by the adoption of the Bayh-Dole Act on patents and trademarks in the 1980s. According to Quincy, from 1996-2012, the innovation economy took off and saw four million jobs supported through academic spinoffs. During this time 12,000 new start-ups were established from academic research and US$1.3 trillion was generated for the fiscus.

Rutgers University also has a partnership with RWJ Barnabas Hospital and is to receive US$1 billion over the next ten years from Barnabas Hospital for medical research. The partnership will serve five million patients per year and will provide in-service training to medical students.


While partnerships could be highly beneficial, Quincy said challenges did exist. One of these was the clash of cultures between universities and corporates, given that universities having high autonomy and distributed governance.

Universities were also increasingly being pressured to check a company’s corporate social responsibility commitment before entering into partnerships.

Quincy said to create sustainable and strategic partnerships, the goals of the partners should be consistent with those of the university. “There should be a line of sight between educational resources and the students’ pathways to jobs and advancing their careers,” he said.

In discussion, he said in building sustainable partnerships it was necessary to focus on institutional values as opposed to individual executives’ values. He said a risk analysis and due diligence on each partnership should be conducted.

Legal aspects

He also cautioned against “letting lawyers drive the processes”. Quincy said while it was important to protect the institution, the legal aspects shouldn’t be allowed to eliminate a good deal.

“The impetus, the responsibility and accountability can’t rest with lawyers … We’ve changed that culture within and are now letting more entrepreneurial academics have greater decision making over the partnership arrangements."

The university had established a senior vice-president position for research and economic development. “This shows we are not looking only at research prospects of a project but economic development too,” he said.

The caveat is that the partnership can’t only be about money. “It’s about the fullness of the relationship. All parties have to benefit. For example, mentorships and internships that come out of partnerships are of huge value even without money from patents,” he said.