University Grants Commission (UGC) has introduced fresh set of reforms to incorporate University Business Linkages (UBL) as a structural component of university curriculum. Recently launched National Policy Framework for SME Development has placed special emphasis on University Business Linkages (UBL) as a key driver in technology and knowledge transfer to SMEs.
Based on extensive work by UGC together with consultants of University of Leipzig facilitated by GIZ SME Development Programme, a reform agenda has been drawn up together with set of guidelines for national universities of Sri Lanka on UBL implementation. The reforms have now been officially launched in all universities in Sri Lanka following a UGC circular.
The circular provides fresh directives to all universities/higher educational institutions on appropriate measures to be taken to foster regional economic development through cooperation with the private sector and to promote knowledge and technology transfer to existing players of the economy. Initiatives will also be taken to facilitate the cooperation of the university with all actors in the society. Accordingly, all universities/higher educational institutions are thereby directed to reorganize and strengthen the University Business Linkages and submit to the University Grants Commission for information and approval.
Some of the focal areas identified by UGC under University Business Linkages are developing practice and business oriented students’ projects, organising trainings and coaching activities for businesses, implementing (technical) consulting services for businesses, promoting research cooperation between businesses and the university and promoting strategic alliances with the private sector in order to develop the research infrastructures and capacities at universities.
The circular directs each university to establish a University Business Linkage Cell (UBL Cell, University Industry Cell or Technology Transfer Office) which acts as a promoter and coordinator of the UBL activities. This goal is achieved by designing and conducting centrally operated as well as faculty-level operated multitude of activities that comes under the focal areas.
UBL Cell will function in all universities and work in close collaboration with the Faculties and the Academic Departments as the task of developing university business linkages as a joint responsibility where the academic community work closely with the private and state-owned businesses as well as their representative organisations (chamber, business association and others).
In this process UBL Cell will take the lead in conducting seminars, conferences, workshops, exhibitions, etc. aimed at creating awareness for the development of University Business Linkages and Universities consists of an operating UBL cell are recommended to further develop this unit. Along with the circular UGC also published a guideline for the development of UBL cells at Universities.
Sri Lankan universities play a strategic role in driving innovation through technology transfer by upgrading knowledge of the SMEs, thus directly contributing to national and regional economic development. However University-Business collaboration in Sri Lanka shows a relatively weak performance by being ranked 107 out of 141 countries.
Further, many universities/higher educational institutions have highlighted several constraints and issues that prevents the development of University Business Linkages. Although at present universities are engaged in UBL activities at pilot level, it lacks an overarching framework that could sustain and institutionalise services that universities provide to the nation’s SMEs. Addressing this hiatus, SME development program of GIZ launched a comprehensive UBL initiative under the patronage of University Grants Commission. The objective of this initiative is to consolidate initiatives and steer the process towards the establishment of a coherent UBL policy framework connecting the knowledge base of the higher education institutions with the demands of the SMEs.
The initiative is championed by German academic consultants from University of Leipzig who brought in international expertise from the area of University and Business Linkages as well as Innovation Management.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) which functions as the apex body of the University System in Sri Lanka was established on 22 December 1978 under the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978. The functions of the UGC are; planning and coordination of university education, allocation of funds to Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs), maintenance of academic standards, regulation of the administration of HEIs and regulation of admission of students to HEIs.
Through the Sri Lankan-German SME Development Program, implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance, GIZ aims to support a cohesive policy framework that enables SME to grow in an inclusive and eco-friendly manner, enhance competitiveness of SME due to technology transfer and innovation, improve access to finance for SME, and enable SME to take advantage of green technologies and maintain nature’s capital for sustainable growth. The program is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) of Germany.