Prof. Ananda Jayawardena calls for university-industry collaboration

Monday, 17 September 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Falling in line with the global trend of entrepreneurship coupled with value addition, universities have to be entrepreneurial universities focusing on value addition, moving away from silos of knowledge to embrace a result-oriented interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary culture without friction or segregation. 

Prof. Ananda Jayawardena, earlier Moratuwa University Vice Chancellor and now the Director General, National Science Foundation, was invited to deliver the Convocation Address at the recently-held Convocation Ceremony 2018 of the Uva Wellassa University (UWU) and he made these comments during his address. 

His theme was ‘University-Industry Collaboration for Value Addition’. He is also the Senior Professor in Civil Engineering, Moratuwa University.

He complemented the UWU for producing world-recognised, highly valued-added, entrepreneurial graduates and post-graduates in a short spell of 13 years.

“Now the graduates turn a new chapter with the new qualification, moving from a learning environment to a more practicing and enterprising environment,” he noted.

He based his address on the following points: Value addition status of the country’s economy; the need for university-industry collaboration; the university preparedness and good practices; the need for alignment of players and facilitation; and their collective role.

Value addition status of the economy

To generate wealth for our country the products and services of the country have to be sold outside the country to earn foreign exchange and reduce imports in an open economy without protectionism or subsidies for the products and services to be globally competitive. 

He said that Sri Lanka is globally competitive in some but not in many. Successes for example are: electronic sensors used by the world’s best car brands, Sri Lanka’s apparels are worn by the world’s top athletes in Olympics, surgical gloves are used by the world’s top surgeons, tyres are used in the world’s best aircrafts, software and algorithms are used in the world’s leading stock exchanges, in doing over one billion eBay transactions per day, and several other similar stories. But the point is that this is not enough. Our trade deficit increases. 

He indicated that the value addition is not sufficient as value addition takes place with knowledge and technology like the smart phone. Sufficient headway is not made. He indicated that for decades value addition is not improved in high-tech products and according to World Bank statistics in 2016, in Sri Lanka it stands at 1% of all exports. In India it is 7%, Thailand 22%, Malaysia 43% and Singapore 49%. 

Despite ambitious plans for a Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for the country successive governments failed to address the issues to invest finances and make a conducive environment, he asserted. He pointed out that the NSF published Sri Lanka Science, Technology and Innovation Statistics 2015, R&D investment is 0.106% of GDP, the lowest in the region.

It is 0.63% in India, 1.3% in Malaysia, and 2.2% in Singapore. Sri Lanka has only 6117 scientists in all fields and only 944 PhDs. It is 106 full time equivalent for a million population. In China, it is 1036, in Malaysia 2261 and in South Korea 7087. If we consider our patents which is an indicator of knowledge creation, in 2015 we obtained only 262 patents, while Malaysia obtained 7,700, Prof. Jayawardena indicated.

In agriculture insignificant value addition or application of modern technology and said that plucked and processed Tea more or less the same way for many decades with only marginal value addition while losing competitiveness to countries like Kenya. Sri Lanka’s best natural rubber loses competitiveness due to low technology used in tapping and processing.

He said that there is no significant value addition in products except in the solid tyre industry; instead the country exports raw rubber and import erasers. We produce the best cinnamon in the world but import many value-added products including medicines and perfumes.

The need for university-industry collaboration

He said that the universities could not be considered as halls of knowledge and learning if they produce graduates by carrying out research and knowledge creation in an ad hoc way and pointed out that there is global pressure for the universities to have stronger partnerships with the industry, to produce graduates targeted for industry needs, to carry out research to solve industry problems and to develop and transfer cutting edge technologies for industry competitiveness.

There are so many example of university industry partnerships such as Silicon Valley where over 2000 tech companies are doing their innovations is a Stanford University initiative. Most pharmaceutical corporations world-over work very closely with universities for drugs development and testing. 

He said that many developed countries and increasingly developing countries get the services of university experts to do their research and development with many mutual benefits. In Japan, such collaborations are identified as Need-Seed, where industry needs are addressed by the university academics identified as Seeds. 

In Sri Lanka too such fruitful collaborations are evolving with many spill over benefits, he indicated. For example, University of Moratuwa (UOM) collaborates with the industry in many ways and similar initiatives are already existing or evolving in other universities too including UWU. 

University preparedness and good practices

The most influential factors for effective university-industry collaboration is the university vision, incorporation of that vision in the strategic management plan and the successive top management commitment for its realisation. 

The UOM vision is ‘to be the most globally recognised knowledge enterprise in South Asia. He said that they need to inculcate in the minds of the university community and other stakeholders including the industry that we would like to be a ‘knowledge enterprise,’ meaning that the university focus is not only teaching and research but also enterprising.

A forum for university-industry dialogue

He indicated that the academic department is to meet the industry once every six months to discuss many aspects for mutual benefit. A Departmental Industry Consultative Boards is established (DICBs). The composition DICB is 50% department academic staff including industrial training and 50% industry partners representing key employers and strategic organisations. 

The discussions, he said would include; graduate attributes, feedback on graduates, curriculum improvements, industrial training opportunities, research collaborations, visiting staff, consultancies, opportunities for academic staff to work in the industry, student mentoring, educational support – in fact anything and everything which will have mutual benefits

Similarly, the Faculty Industry Consultative Boards (FICBs) are supposed to meet once a year to discuss and implement things applicable to the faculties

An external commercial arm

The UOM has an external commercial arm – UNI Consultancy Services (UNIC). This is an entity registered under the Company Registrar as an Association Limited by Guarantee with voluntary membership limited to academic staff of the University, He said. One important advantage of UNIC is that it can bid for projects using resources in and out of the university. 

This entity can be considered a bona fide external arm of the university and was created to promptly and proactively respond to industry needs and to look for industry collaborations. This mechanism has significantly helped the university in fostering university industry links in several aspects, providing university expertise to large national projects making multidisciplinary teams, coordinating events organised by several departments in the university and even extending services for international collaborations.

Industry-funded R&D laboratories

This is a mechanism where the industry invests for research by providing funds to the university to establish research facilities, pay for staff and meet other expenses to carry out research and development which has immediate commercial potential. The university provides expertise, space and research students where relevant. The UOM has been very successful with such collaborations in a range of technological developments.

He said that such collaborations provide solutions to problems that the industry is not equipped to answer by itself without the help of the multidisciplinary expertise available at the university. 

From the point of view of the university, these collaborations provide the university increased recognition to the university, opportunities for academics to disseminate knowledge gained through research programs, capacity building for academics on handling real industrial problems and additional income to the technical staff, he asserted.

Industry-funded endowed chairs

He said that the country’s universities have strategic areas which need a real push and a champion to lead. Such champions are difficult to draw from academic staff specifically in new areas. This is where the industry support can be obtained to establish endowed positions with high remuneration to attract external champions for limited tenure. 

UOM has benefitted significantly by two such endowments, initially to establish a chair for entrepreneurship and subsequently to broad base it to cover both innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Other ways of university-industry collaborations

Prof. Jayawardena indicated that there can be a range of mechanisms for university-industry partnerships only limited to one’s imagination as long as they meet the mutual interests of both the industry and the university. He said that these can include such initiatives as industry and university together seek funding for strategic research and development facilities from other sources, obtaining industry expertise for student mentoring by corporate leaders, obtaining research grants for contract research and funding.

The need for alignment of players and facilitation

He said that productive and fruitful university-industry collaboration takes place in a positive and conducive environment. Otherwise, spurts of individual initiatives will soon die due to frustration, constraints and lack of support from the system. 

To have a conducive environment an eco-system has to be created, he said. Such as eco-system needs alignment of players, avoidance of bottlenecks, put in place facilitating incentives, lubricating available mechanisms and many others. 

He said that in a competitive world people work for rewards and recognition except for a few who will still work with their conscience for a cause and not expect rewards. In a university-industry collaboration, there are several other benefits in different ways such as reputation building of involving academics, additional remuneration, new case studies for their teaching, ideas and facilities for their research, more research students, etc. They are indirect and not all academics are motivated to take such initiatives outside their normal duties. 

He pointed out that the University Grants Commission (UGC) had taken several actions to establish more effective university-industry collaborations through the establishment of university business cells. 

He asserted that the latest World Bank project AHEAD was also addressing this aspect by providing funds and incentives for such collaboration while the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) project is facilitating enabling an intellectual environment coordinated by the Coordinating Secretariat of Science and Technology (COSTI), National Intellectual Property Office (NIPO), NSF and universities. 

Despite these efforts, if we look at international practices, a very important function of a university is technology transfer and in order to facilitate this, every university has a fully-fledged technology transfer office. 

He said that these tech transfer professionals have formed the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) comprising more than 3,200 members who work in more than 800 institutions around the globe with the mission to support and advance academic technology transfer globally (

University collective role

The most important way for effective university-industry collaboration is the facilitation of the eco-system. This is where different players – individual universities, University Grants Commission, Ministry of Higher Education and other relevant ministries, the Treasury, Department of Management Services, National Procurement Agency and instruments such as national policies and institutional priorities – facilitate a common goal with appropriate incentives and compulsion, Prof. Jayawardena indicated. 

He said that when they do research and develop solutions for value added agriculture, the experts in UWU should collaborate with the Department of Agriculture, say Moratuwa University, where modern technological inputs can be developed such as drone technology and precision agriculture, microbiologists, genetic experts, farmers, technology developers, industry and end users. 

He said that these efforts should also be facilitated by institutions like the National Science Foundation, where he is currently working to ensure such interdisciplinary team work targeting specific outcomes leading to commercialisation and practical application. 

The dedication of the UWU in correctly identifying the vision, goals and strategies to produce entrepreneurs, carry out outcome based research and focus on value addition is noteworthy he said. 

“It is clearly a challenge for us to realise this vision and I am sure the top management, the Vice-Chancellor with his vision guided by the University Council, Senate and the Faculties, and the industry supported by the alumni of the university will do their utmost to ensure the realisation of its vision and goals,” he indicated.

He said that their success can be judged not only by the number of graduates they produce and the number of academic publications their academics contribute, but also the true value addition they can talk about which has made their industries truly competitive.