The “New University” in 1999

In the last decade of the last century we talked about the “New University” and we invited international referents to explain what this idea was and what it meant. But, who were these international references? What kind of university should we build?

This entry tries to summarize those ideas through an adaptation of the paper presented by Professor Henry Etzkowitz at the Nobel Symposium “Science and industry in the 20th Century” organized by the Center for History of Science (Stockholm, November 2002). Professor Henry Etzkowitz authorized the translation to include it in the issue of the Entrepreneurial Initiative Magazine that I coordinated together with Professor Jaume Valls in 2003. I think it is the best text to answer the previous questions.

Etkowitz identified the academic revolutions. The first academic revolution took place in the late 19th and early 20th century when research became a legitimate function of the university. In that era there were many objections that research activities were improperly taking professors away from their traditional roles as teachers. Nevertheless, that transformation took place. Presently (we now situate ourselves in the last decade of the last century), the university is undergoing a second transformation in which economic development is added to research and teaching as a legitimate function of the university. Teaching will not disappear from the university: it is too costly to do without and counterproductive to other organizational objectives. Students are not only potential junior researchers, but also future alumni who make philanthropic donations and provide political support for their alma maters.

Those few research universities in the 19th century that tried to do without undergraduates soon thought better of it and brought back their undergraduate colleges. In the early 21st century, even as universities become much more explicit agents of economic development, as part of their nation’s and region’s industrial and science policies, they will also retain their traditional functions of research and teaching. It is this ‘capitalization of knowledge’ that is the heart of a new mission for the university, linking universities to users of knowledge more tightly and establishing the university as an economic actor in its own right.

As each new mission is incorporated within the university, it restructures how the previous one is carried out. Thus, as research is assumed as an academic mission how to do research is taught to students, thus making it part of the educational mission. Conversely, as students perform research tasks as part of their education, new knowledge are generated. Thus research becomes incorporated in the teaching mission and teaching in the research mission. A similar dynamic occurs as economic development is introduced and is realized both through the research and teaching missions. Rather than being seen as separate functions, each mission becomes interrelated with the other, although not without controversy and persisting tension. Nevertheless, the extension of each mission through the other is one reason why the university as a flexible organizational format has an advantage over other more specialized organizational formats such as the research institute or the firm.

The second academic revolution also expands the number of universities. As the thesis of knowledge based economic development takes hold every region wants its own university. Attracting the best students and professors in some areas becomes an economic development strategy that expands the growth of the academic enterprise.

An entrepreneurial university involves extension from ideas to practical activity, capitalizing knowledge, organizing new entities, managing risks. The key elements of an emergent entrepreneurial university include (1) the organization of group research, (2) the creation of a research base with commercial potential, (3) the development of organizational mechanisms to move research out of the university as protected intellectual property, (4) the capacity to organize firms within the university and (5) integration of academic and business elements into new formats such as university-industry research centers.

The entrepreneurial university is an emergent phenomenon. The most important characteristic of the full-fledged entrepreneurial university is that research problem definition comes from outside sources as well as from within the university and scientific disciplines. In its fullest form the definition of research problems arises from an interaction between university researchers and external sources as a joint project. Indeed, what would have heretofore been considered as “external” in the previous model is less so when boundaries are lessened. Just as there is a two-way flow between teaching and research in the classic research university model; similarly there is now a two way flow between research and economic and social activities.

Whereas the research group of teachers and students is the characteristic organizational form of the research university and the transitional model; the center is the characteristic organizational form of the entrepreneurial university. The center format was originally an internal university mechanism to draw together faculty members from diverse disciplines into ongoing inter-disciplinary research projects, the boundary spanning character of centers has been extended beyond the formal boundaries of the university to draw members of other institutional spheres into academic activities and academics into theirs.

Such a center typically comprises university and non-university members who participate together in the formulation and conduct of research. In this model research, education and “external relations’ occur in a single setting where all the interests participate. Another type is a new entrepreneurial university, organized on the base of a science park, research Institute or group of firms. Such academic institutions have begun as an extension of a firm or research institute.

The university has expanded its mission, at least twice since its origins in the 13th century, from its original task of preservation and dissemination of knowledge, to research and production of new knowledge and more recently to putting knowledge to use in various ways. Thus, at each point of transition and the assumption of a new task has involved organizational and ideational change in the concept of the university Nevertheless, despite incorporating new and seemingly contradictory roles and functions, the university still maintains a common identity. Why has the university “hung together” rather than splintered?

The answer is that each of these new roles have fed back into and enhanced the carrying out of a previous function. This explains why the university has held together as a common institution despite taking on various tasks that are seemingly at odds with each other.

To some extent, each transition is inherent in the previous one as the new mission emerges as side effect of carrying out the old. Thus, the entrepreneurial university is a result of the working out of an “inner logic” of academic development that previously expanded the academic enterprise from a focus on teaching to research.

It is important for various reasons to have the critical, investigative and productive functions together in the same institution. The strongest universities are those that embody all of these three areas. Stanford, which played a leading role in creating Silicon Valley, is also a leading university in the humanities and social sciences as well as in medicine and the physical sciences. MIT, which is seen as a technological university, from its inception also built up strong departments in the humanities. However, it did not do this in a general way but in the humanities that were especially relevant for the technological sciences.

The idea of the university as an active force in firm formation and regional economic development has spread widely, from MIT to Stanford, and then throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Founded in 1864 to foster technology-based economic development, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology illustrates how legitimating multiple functions of economic development, research and teaching as complementary provides an ideological framework for the entrepreneurial university.

Tying the generation of economic activity to the academic format can create a self-sustaining dynamic of economic and social development. In the entrepreneurial academic model the university educates and graduates organizations as well as individuals.