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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Comments

Comments on university-private sector partnerships

Takahiro Miyao (GLOCOM) and Kenneth Pechter (University of Tokyo)

The following comments have been posted on NBR's Japan Forum in response to the moderator's reference to a December 27 Japan Times article (, which discusses recent attempts at fostering closer partnerships between universities and the private sector in research and development.

MIYAO: One might notice two, somewhat contradictory, messages in this article.

  1. The writer's message: Japan should emulate the U.S. model to foster closer partnerships between universities and the private sector, but university researchers still have strong psychological resistance to such relationships.
  2. A METI official's remark: "What we intend to do is expand the current cooperative system (that usually exists between individual professors and businesses) into one between a university and a company on the organizational level."
I tend to think that the latter is closer to the truth, especially in engineering fields, while the difference between researchers and business people in their ways of thinking is more or less universal and the matter of degree, not formidable barriers, especially in Japan, as the writer seems to suggest.
See the quotation below:
"Yasuharu Suematsu, Director of the National Institute of Informatics, explained that Japan has a long tradition of industry-academia cooperation and has made achievements, even though they have been invisible and non-contracting ones. From now, it is important to change them into visible ones", "Larry Prusak of IBM suggested some measures to promote mutual understandings between R&D managers and business management, which still differed in their ways of thinking." (from Hajime Yamada's summary of an OECD conference titled "Managing the University-Industry Relations: The Role of Knowledge Management" on the GLOCOM Platform;

PECHTER: I must echo Professor Miyao's observation of contradiction in the Japan Times article. Other contradictions common in the university-industry linkage reform debate are the claim that Japan must increase its funding of basic research versus the claim that Japanese universities lag the US in contributions to patents despite very large research investments, and the claim that Japanese universities are increasing fluidity in its faculty members while at the same time retirement ages in national universities are rising. The contradictions in the article are not so much the fault of the writer, who did a respectable job covering this somewhat murky topic. Rather they come from the overly simplistic conventional wisdom on the issue of university-industry relations in Japan's innovation system, which labels the university-industry linkage in Japan dysfunctional, and seeks to remedy the dysfunction by relying usually on the perceived American university-industry linkage model.

First, the university-industry linkage is much more "functional" than the common wisdom gives it credit for. My own analysis indicates that such metrics as industry-to-university R&D funding flow and Japanese university contributions to industry patenting are, accounting for institutional differences, close to being on par with the US. A metric that is institutionally more comparable to the US, university-industry coauthorship of scientific papers, shows Japanese universities to be just as involved with Japanese industry research as American universities are with American industry research (e.g., Kenneth Pechter, "Comparative Policy Analysis under Conditions of Innovation-driven Change: Assessment of the University-Industry Linkage in Japan and the United States," Proceedings of the 2001 IEEE Engineering Management Society International Engineering Management Conference, 2001; or Kenneth Pechter, "Japanese Innovation Reform in the Light of Past Dialogue: Conceptions of Convergence as Perspectives for Comparative System Assessment," Proceedings of the 2001 Conference of the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy, 2001, downloadable at <>). On the other hand, research by others indicates that recent policy initiatives like the Bayh-Dole act in the US may have less to do with American innovation strength than long-term institutional issues (e.g., David C. Mowery, Richard R. Nelson, Bhaven N. Sampat, and Arvids A. Ziedonis, "The Growth of Patenting and Licensing by U.S. Universities: An Assessment of the Effects of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980," Research Policy, 30 (1): 99-119, January 2001).

The real issue is therefore not the lack of interaction between the university and industry sectors, but what is done with such interaction. Is it any surprise that those involved in the interaction in Japan either have less economic incentive or run into more hindrances than those in the US? These are overt aspects of the Japanese policy framework, and should not be a surprise or mystery. If the American approach is demonstrated to be better than Japan's, what is required in Japan are not adjustments but fundamental reform of the Japanese innovation system. However, such a determination demands critical analysis not only of Japanese, American and other policy models, but of the choices to be made concerning what the Japanese nation wants to achieve with its public and university research systems. While steps are being taken in this direction, a reliance on more simplistic labels is certain to result in further contradictions in this crucial debate.

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