The Excellence Initiative as an Instrument to Further University-Industry Collaboration
• German Rectors' Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, HRK)
On September 7th, 2016, the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) New York together with the German Rector’s Conference hosted a panel discussion in New York City on the Excellence Initiative as an instrument to further university-industry collaboration. University-industry collaboration is becoming a central element in the strategic development of many successful organizations and institutions throughout the world. The discussion was based on questions such as why there has been an increased focus on university-industry collaboration and how those involved have benefited from these partnerships.
After a welcome speech by Dr. Joann Halpern, director of the GCRI, the moderator, Prof. Philip Altbach introduced the topic of discussion by stressing the importance of university-industry collaboration. It can be a challenge for this collaboration to benefit both sides, because university and industry leaders do not always see eye to eye. The German Excellence Commission continually strives to enhance understanding between these two entities and to boost universities’ global rankings as the academic system becomes more competitive.
The first speaker, Prof. Dr. Horst Hippler, president of the German Rector’s Conference, focused on the importance of creating conditions that allow German universities to compete globally. He stated, although the communication between the market and universities is important, it is not the primary objective of the Excellence Initiative. The Excellence Initiative was originally a limited project spanning from 2005 to 2017, with a total budget of 5.4 billion euros. 75% of the project was supported by the German Federal Government and 25% by the German Länder. Forty-three research clusters and eleven excellence universities have been supported by the initiative thus far. This has enhanced the visibility of German science on a global scale. Hence, Prof. Dr. Hippler recommended continuous support for the Excellence Initiative, which led to its new name, the “strategy for excellence”. This has signified its’ sustainable continuance by being funded with 385 million euros per year without an imposed limitation. Besides the “strategy for excellence”, the German government and industries are funding universities, and focusing on the research and innovation system. These close ties can be seen in the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and the Helmholtz Association, which now have strong partnerships with industry. The most prominent examples of industry partners are Audi, Daimler, Volkswagen, and Deutsche Telekom. This collaboration between universities and industry inspires a collaborative effort. The approach also applies to the arts and humanities, not only the STEM fields. Prof. Hippler concluded that the project is about shaping personalities, not only research in the traditional sense.
Representing the industry perspective, the second speaker, Anne Rosenberg, Vice President and Head of Global SAP University Alliances and SAP Next-Gen Consulting, continued the discussion. SAP is one of the world’s largest software companies. Rosenberg agreed that the collaboration between universities and industry is an important topic. SAP provides the skills and tools for future entrepreneurs, while focusing on young people, startups, and large industries. As the Vice President of SAP, she is responsible for driving exponential innovation in EdTech and developing the global SAP university alliances and SAP Next-Gen Labs in Silicon Valley and New York. She calls herself a network broker for a global academic innovation network that motivates the SAP Next-Gen Labs to bring industries, governments, students, startups and tech communities together. Today EdTech is growing faster than FinTech. In order to bring academia and industry together, a platform like the SAP Next-Gen Network is necessary. In addition, Rosenberg explained that 74% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system; 98% of the top 100 most valued brands in the world are SAP customers, and over 300,000 companies are part of SAP’s world’s largest business network. She emphasized that industry and academia are the ultimate network. Rosenberg highlighted the challenges that arise through the acceleration of advancements in technology for which SAP Next-Gen Labs offers solutions. The main idea is for industries to collaborate with universities in order to amplify innovation and dialogue. SAP is planning to introduce Next-Gen Labs in cities such as Paris, London, San Jose, and New York. By 2020, SAP’s plan is to have a hundred labs at universities all over the world, which collaborate with customers in the area and organize meetups to improve networking, innovation, and startups. SAP also plans to release SAP TV, which will stream innovation live from their office at Hudson Yards New York. Another example of academia-industry collaboration mentioned by Rosenberg was Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island.
During the Q&A, several subsequent topics were discussed. Both speakers addressed the question of the division of profit between industry and academia. Furthermore, they stated that the money from the excellence initiative is not enough to fund universities; however, the direct support of research and the labeling and success of the projects can help to acquire additional funding. To the question of how the initiative measures excellence, Prof. Hippler explained that research, publications, and conferences are evaluated, although in the end, the academic community makes the decisions. The discussion then delved deeper into the topics of communication between industry and academia as well as the comparison between German and American bureaucracy. Finally, they noted that the challenges that SAP and the Excellence Initiative had to face were due to an initial fear in Germany that industries may tell the universities what to do, thus taking away their freedom of research. This is remedied by strict rules that contractors have to follow. For instance, the industry does not determine the direction of research, and does not control the employment of professors or their publications. The Q&A was followed by a reception in the German House restaurant, giving the guests, the opportunity to network.