Industry-Academic Co-creation

October 10, 2009 at 8:36 AM

Industry-Academic Co-creation

Thami Msubo and Jim Stellar

Thami is Chief, HR, Corporate Affairs & Empowerment of Tata Steel KZN (South Africa), and Jim is known to this blog as the Provost and Academic Vice President of CUNY Queens College. Jim and Thami met a number of times at the World Association of Cooperative Education Conferences. Thami was from industry and very few were. Mostly participants were like Jim – from universities who participated in or wanted to participate in cooperative education or what much of the world calls it, Work Integrated Learning.

We discussed the concept of co-creation where two parties, i.e. manufacturer and customer work to create a product as opposed to the former going it alone and expect the latter to pay for the final product without providing input or comments to its design. We decided to write a piece for the blog on that concept and how to drive sustainable partnerships and co-creation between the industry and the providers of high education. So, why do co-creation? Thami lays out three reasons as follows:

1. Co-creation between the industry and universities, if executed properly, will lead to sustainable development that will grow the economy around the world.

2. It is no longer the providers of high education and the industry alone that should be entrusted with the responsibility of designing the curriculum, the next practice already happening in industry is that the customer input is becoming more and more critical to getting it right. The customer, in this case, refers to the general public who are expected to consume the final product, in this case the graduated student. What we want to examine is that the preparation of this student could be created out of the university and the industry acting together. The industry in this case includes all sorts of industries, e.g. services, financial, entertainment etc. Universities should continue to lead the way in terms of innovative and new discoveries in teaching and research, industry should be able to do the conversion in such a manner that the final product remains attractive, competitive and sustainable for the consuming public which has the purchasing / buying power.

3. Co-creation in high education today remains more important than ever before. The students who graduate at universities in today’s world must be entrepreneurial, value adders and solution providers. Universities should not be ivory towers, but should understand the needs of the general public to play an influential role in helping companies to design products and services that are attractive to the general public. Governments do not create wealth, the latter is left to the interaction between the industry and consumers, and we are arguing that universities should form part of this partnership if they are to remain important to the 21st century.

Jim responds to these points, by noting that academic institutions have been around and stable for a very long time. What company in the world today is as old as Harvard University with its 350+ years? And remember, the university system was up and running for a long time before Harvard was founded. But with the advent of the internet and the interconnectedness of all of us, it may be time for a new model that keeps the core of what is a university, but co-creates its educated students with the deep partnership of industry. That means both have to get used to each other and changes have to occur that are mutually beneficial. No partnership ever survived for long when both did not gain.

So how do we do this? First, we exchange students and faculty. Primarily that means undergraduates going on work experiences in industry and industry executives coming to the university to learn about the latest research. That part is already happening, but universities could do much more of it. The next step is harder as it involves mutual respect. Here we would propose that industry have input to the design of the curriculum that the faculty correctly hold as the essence of their job to design and deliver. But they can take input from industry without giving up that power. In some places it happens but here we are talking about professional or isolated programs. We mean more here, that it should be brought into what is often called liberal education. Industry must share some of its proprietary entity. By this we do not mean intellectual property or money, although that could happen. We mean the social and intellectual power that shapes the company culture, its method of operation. For example, corporations must get used to more deliberative time scale in which academic curriculum is derived. The University must listen and act where it agrees. If Industry argues that students need to write better, be creative, have more interaction with faculty, then the university should look carefully at its general education requirements and wonder if the convenience of a multiple choice test does not work too much against what the institution asks of its students.

Thami highlights some examples of certain universities around the world that have allowed some of their faculties and academic programs to be named after the industry benefactors to illustrate the level of co-creation, e.g. Investec School of Business at Rhodes University in South Africa: , Siemens AG “building technology professorial chair” at the renowned Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland : , and various professorial chairs at universities across the globe that are co-created with and funded by the US based General Electric:

In closing both authors believe that co-creation is a powerful way to go if universities and industry were to remain committed to deliver on economic sustainability and educated citizenry.

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2 Responses to “Industry-Academic Co-creation”

  1. Flavio says:

    Jim, did you take into consideration the risk of having the industry even more involved into curricula?

    What about talents? Should we give them more engineers, even when we just have painters left?

    I believe culture needs to be totally disconnected from the industry if we want people to really contribute to the growth of a sustainable economy.


  2. Jim Stellar says:


    I understand the tension. Personally, I think we have set the balance too far toward the isolation characteristic of the monastery from which we evolved. Given the high training and expertise of serious faculty, I am not worried at this point about a loss of our cultural, academic, or even spiritual mission. In fact, I see industry involvement as an enhancement of all that.


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