Triple Helix refers to cooperation between the universities, industry, and Government for economic and social growth. Such collaboration between these three building blocks of a national innovation system is evident in driving economic growth out of innovation. Universities will generate knowledge and ideas; industry will convert them into product and process innovation. And to make this cooperation happen, Government will provide R&D funds to universities to undertake collaborative projects with the industry. The Government will also offer additional policy support to encourage both the industry and universities to engage.
Often, such an intuitive model fails to deliver expected outputs—economic growth out of innovation. In many cases, universities are busy producing graduates and publications having little or no relevance to the industry. Besides, the industry is after getting incentives without having an interest in utilizing the knowledge and ideas generated by universities. Hence, the triple helix model runs the risk of directional failure.
Lesson of Triple Helix model from the USA:
Before 1899, corporate America did not have systematic R&D activities to derive knowledge and convert it into ideas for inventing and advancing products and processes. They used to rely on intuition, tinkering, craftsmanship, and the import of engineering competence and ideas from Europe. Hence, the role of the universities was to supply graduates for replication and engineering, as opposed to knowledge and ideas.
For incremental advancement of the light bulb, in 1899, GE established the first corporate R&D center in America. The demonstration of GE to benefit from systematic R&D in generating knowledge and a flow of ideas for incremental innovation triggered a chain reaction. But until 1940, the role of the US Government and universities in supplying knowledge and ideas to the industry was not noticeable. The situation changed with the demonstration of R&D work performed in universities to sharpen weapons during the 2nd world war.
Hence, soon after it, the USA adopted a cooperation model between the Government, University, and Industry. Subsequently, it gave birth to the modern Triple helix model. The basic notion was that for advancing military capability out of technology, Government would fund basic research at universities. Subsequently, the industry would transfer findings into weapons. Further advancement would lead to civilian innovations. This is about serving dual purposes upon following the linear model.
Yes, America benefited from this defense agenda-led linear model of innovation. For example, academic R&D funding for Radar, Avionics, Internet, Computer, Satellite communication, Space mission, and many more have strengthened the military. Further advancement by the industry led to serving civilian innovations.
But this Triple helix model has been weakening as inventions made through this process are being lost to other countries due to incremental innovation and reinvention. Due to the publication race, Universities are more interested in breaking new ground.
Triple Helix Model in less developed countries:
Upon seeing the success of the Triple Helix Model in the USA, less developed countries have been expanding universities and academic research. Following curricula and research programs of universities of the USA and other advanced countries, less developed countries are also making advancements in producing graduates and publications. Invariably, such programs are funded by the Government.
Unfortunately, in these countries, the industry is failing to benefit from the outputs of universities. The underlying root cause has been how enterprises have been producing economic value. Invariably, the industry in less developed countries is importing capital machinery and product design to produce output through local labor and natural resources. Hence, the industry does not have a demand for new knowledge to generate ideas. On the other hand, due to the absence of the coupling with the defense market, knowledge generated by the local universities, as follow-up research of the US, and Europe, gets caught in the opportunity gap. Invariably, such knowledge supports primitive ideas for which the civilian market does not exist.
On the other hand, the industry in information technology has been demanding a workforce with industry-ready skills for serving the low-end engineering service demand of advanced countries. But those skills are not covered within the local university curricula, as they have basic research-driven curricula of advanced countries. Besides, the knowledge delivered by university education is failing to have relevance to manufacturing activities due to the growing role of imported automation machinery. Hence, the role of universities in serving the purpose of the industry is suffering from directional failure.
Challenges to create economic value from knowledge and ideas:
The inherent belief or philosophy of the Triple Helix model is that there is a natural correlation between the acquisition of available knowledge, advancement of it, its conversion to ideas, and economic growth. Unfortunately, such a correlation does not naturally exist with the given innovation dynamics. Hence, as high as 94 percent of patents do not find applications, and more than 80 percent of innovative products retire before producing profitable revenue. Furthermore, as high as 90 percent failure rate of startups and more than 80 percent of engineering graduates in India do not find engineering jobs are the realities.
Irrespective of the greatness of the ideas and underlying science base, all inventions show up in primitive form. Invariably, they fail to create appeal in civilian application in the early stage of life. For example, there were no civilian customers for computers, Internet, cellular communications, and hard disks in the early stage. Hence, they need a continuous flow of ideas to create economic value from incremental advancement.
Furthermore, inventions do not keep linearly growing. Instead, they keep evolving in episodic form through both incremental advancement and reinvention. Besides, in the globally connected competitive market, there has been intense competition in driving this evolution, resulting in the loss of inventions from inventors’ hands. Unless knowledge and ideas are aligned along the pathway of the evolution of products and processes, knowledge acquired and created by universities has very little or no role to play. Hence, for the Triple Helix model to succeed, cooperation between the Government, Universities, and Industry must be aligned along the evolutionary pathways of targeted products.
Addressing directional failures:
Both the advanced and less developed countries have been facing directional failure to benefit from the Triple Helix model. In the USA and a few other advanced countries, universities are after Government funding for basic research. Incentives for making publications and filing patents are the underlying reasons. Although such a role of universities in fueling a linear model of innovation benefited the USA, due to the coupling with the defense agenda, other countries cannot replicate it. Besides, due to the weak interest of universities in R&D for incremental innovation, inventions from the linear model have been migrating to other countries.
Besides, the economic return from evolving existing products through incremental and sustaining innovation and reinvention appears to be far higher than pursuing a defense-led linear innovation model. For example, Taiwan and Japan have shown remarkable performance without having coupling with the defense. Instead of inventing out of basic research, they migrated the innovation epicenters of significant products and processes from the USA and Europe, resulting in substantial economic success. For example, the US industry has lost the edge in LCD, Cameras, Light bulbs, Batteries, Displays, Computer storage, and many more to the Japanese industry. Besides, Taiwan’s success in taking over the silicon edge through the local creation of knowledge and ideas is splendid. It has happened due to the Triple Helix model of Hsinchu science park. Besides, in many cases, knowledge generation for evolving existing products has been growing exponentially, leading to winning Nobel Prizes.
University education in developing countries has little or no relevance to labor and natural resource-centric value addition. Barriers to benefit from university in driving the industry’s growth have roots in age-old economic strategy and policy. Unless these countries address those, the Triple Helix model will bring little or no benefit.
Leveraging the Triple Helix model for driving innovation-led economic growth:
Innovation out of knowledge generation and its conversion into ideas of product and process features has been gaining growing traction. Triple Helix of cooperation between the university, industry, and Government is vital for leveraging it. But there is no natural correlation. We must align the industry along the pathway of the evolution of products and processes. That is a must for creating the demand for knowledge and ideas. Once we address it, the role of universities in supplying knowledge and ideas shows up. The Government should address the market failure and sustain the mutual incentive-driven cooperation between the industry and university out of policies. Furthermore, the Triple Helix model should be the cornerstone for creating startup successes.
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