Over the past few years, there has been an unprecedented attention given to the vital and essential role higher education has in helping tackle the sociocultural and economic development of our region; considering not only its role in producing and transmitting knowledge and building future generations of young people who are equipped with new sets of skills, knowledge and ideals but also by further extending universities and colleges traditional role to act as catalysts for change, economic development and innovation.
In adapting to this new role higher education regionally and globally has continued to encounter many challenges including those related to: limited and insufficient funding; pressure for widening access and improving equality, ability to attract and retain talent, the need to enhance and preserve quality, the ability to engage in research and innovation, the necessity to ensure programs’ relevance to the economic and social needs which will lead to improved graduates’ employability, among others. Recent technology advancements have also posed additional challenges on higher education by continuously bringing new ways for the creating, managing, disseminating and delivering knowledge.
The MENA region higher education also faces its own obstacles to which many other less developed countries outside of the MENA region may relate. Several international organizations such as UNESCO and World bank have pointed out the challenges of growing demand for higher education associated to the rapidly growing population of our region limited funding and reliance on government funding leading many private universities to increase tuition fees or to compromise quality over access, low research and innovation outputs and the mismatch between universities research orientation and outcomes national needs are major hurdles to overcome.
Other challenges are specific and relate to the skills, knowledge and training received by students from universities that do not seem to adequately prepare them for the job market nor to equip them with the 21st century skills required for the current market. This mismatch between what students learn and what industry needs – coupled with under-training in certain critical skills have been often recognized as the main reason for high unemployment in many countries across the region.
It is believed that many of the above challenges may be addressed via an improved active collaboration between government, higher education and industry. With this in mind, it is worth noting that the priorities and scope of such collaborations may differ significantly between developed and developing countries as well as between different countries across the MENA region.
The aforementioned concerns and challenges have made the various sectors realize the increasing need to come together and the necessity to address priorities and identify ways to continuously bridge the gap between government, academia and industry. In doing so, governments play a central role in this process, acting as a facilitator and provider of funding and incentives to develop and encourage university-industry partnerships.
The establishment of such a strong proactive foundation between higher education, industry and governments will not only be based on requiring the skills and knowledge of university graduates but also on other critical roles that H.E Sector can play in continuously supporting industry through research and know how capabilities and by incubating scientific and technological innovations that promote real and sustained economic growth and social development is perceived as a vehicle to enhance innovation through knowledge exchange. The common and ultimate goal being: to promote the relevance and contribution of universities to the socio-economic development of our nations.
Over the years university-industry collaborations in different parts of the World have taken various formal and informal forms and shapes supporting both long and short terms objectives: from establishing industry advisory boards that provide insights into programs and curricula to setting up university-industry research collaborations that fosters the establishment of science parks, spin-offs and business incubators.
However, despite the increasing understanding of the importance of academic-industry linkages and the numerous benefits they can offer to all parties including the preparation of well-trained graduates, solution to specific problems or the lending of professional expertise, access to basic and applied research, the possibility of using university facilities, the active participation in improving community relations among others; there is still a strong need to improve the dialogue between various parties and identify effective frameworks and policies to encourage , enhance and grow such academic-Industry links
Furthermore, and while there exist many successful examples for such linkages across the region there is still an overall lack of enthusiasm at the larger scale for the establishment of these collaborations. Many issues keep surfacing around disparity between universities and industry in the kind of outcomes they would like to achieve, uncertainty about the potential benefits of working together, aspects related to intellectual property and the difficulty on both sides of finding the time and resources for initial exploratory conversations.
In view of these obstacles to university-industry collaboration, a report of the Joint Project of the U.S. National Council of University Research Administrators and the Industrial Research Institute recommends the following guiding principles for university-industry endeavors (NCURA 2006):
- Successful university-industry collaboration should support the mission of each partner. Any effort in conflict with the mission of either partner will ultimately fail.
- Institutional practices and national resources should focus on fostering appropriate long-term partnerships between universities and industry.
- Universities and industry should focus on the benefits to each party that will result from collaborations by streamlining negotiations to ensure timely conduct of the research and the development of the research findings.
These recommendations are equally relevant for all countries, although the barriers to university-industry collaboration are especially acute in low-income countries.
In other words, it is important that such enthusiasm is tampered with realism and recognition of the trade-offs inherent in promoting such linkages.
The MENA Higher Education Leadership Forum is a unique interactive platform addressing policy makers and leaders of higher education from across the region and well beyond that allows for latest trends and developments in the field to be presented, discussed and debated. This year, the Forum is expanding its outreach to invite high level government and industry representatives to come to the table to discuss how we can collaboratively work on improving collaboration between universities, industry and government.
Throughout the three days Forum participants will address a number of questions including looking at how do we measure the economic and societal impact of universities and innovation? How can government and industry work together with universities to drive positive change? What models have proved to be effective? What successful examples of partnerships exist? What factors can facilitate or inhibit stronger university-industry/ government partnerships, as well as the potential opportunities for future partnerships.
The Forum will involve keynote addresses, panel discussions, focus groups and best practices presentations from across the globe addressing the Forum theme and one of the following sub-themes