Literature review University-business engagement and the status of engagement capacity in the international context

The research around university-business engagement (UBE) has mostly been focused on separate topics, rather than presenting a holistic overview that captures all elements of UBE. This blog post will touch on the factors that inhibit or drive UBE, and context, with a focus on the engagement between universities and Small and Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs), in particular. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive overview.

UBE is by definition ‘any sort of interactions between universities and business for mutual benefit’[1]. These are interactions across education, research, valorisation, and management. For academics, engagement with businesses is not only a means to fulfil the second mission of the university, it is also a means to expand on their research and therefore enhance their professional reputation[2] and it provides academics with industry problem solving and research applications[3]. Companies, being profit oriented, are mainly motivated by the willingness to obtain resources and make profit. However, they are also driven by the need to compete in the international market[4]. SMEs specifically might have an internal financial obstacle to innovation. Having access to public funds through the engagement with HEIs can therefore be a strong incentive for SMEs[5]. Another motivator specific to SMEs is the range of new opportunities beyond the main objectives of engagement with academics. Engagement can lead to new business opportunities, such as new market creation, new project engagement, new venture creation and new strategic network development[6]. Another driver, that applies to both companies and universities, is the increased possibility of networking through which they can exchange knowledge and skills[7].

Facilitators are the factors that can foster engagement. Rast et al.[8], have identified commitment, communication, trust, conflict, and leadership as the main factors in the engagement process for both universities and businesses.

Barriers are the factors that can hinder engagement. For HEIs the main barriers are time constraints and the lack of human and financial resources[9]. For SMEs, the main barriers are the lack of absorptive capacity[10], and issues around confidentiality[11]. Another barrier for SMEs is the perceived administrative bureaucracy in HEIs and difficulties during IP negotiations[12]. Both parties can furthermore be hindered by the lack of organisational support[13]. Even though an incentive for SMEs and HEIs might be the willingness to access funding, this also translates into one of the barriers; a shortage of (often government) funding[14].


Implications for the project:

  • Three factors need to be present in SMEs for successful engagement: boundary spanner, committed SME leadership that can allocate the needed resources and actively encourages open communication, and strong relationship between the university and SME.
  • Trust between parties is essential in the engagement. Before SMEs have built up a relationship with a university, their trust is based on the competency of the whole university, rather than the specific department involved, and referrals that they receive from other SMEs. Universities can actively encourage SMEs to share their experiences in working with the university, by creating formal and informal networking opportunities for SMEs. At the same time, universities can support SMEs, by promoting, recognising, and valuing partnerships with SMEs.
  • For both universities and SMEs, it would be beneficial to participate in training programmes focussed on engagement between these two. SMEs specifically would benefit from these programmes through an increased absorptive capacity and engagement capabilities.


Author: Fleur Schellekens



Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash



[1] Davey, T., Baaken, T. & Galán Muros, V. (2011). The State of European University-Business Cooperation. Science- to-Business Marketing Research Centre, Münster University of Applied Sciences.

[2] Fan, X., Yang, X., Chen, L. (2015) Diversified resources and academic influence: patterns of university– industry collaboration in Chinese research oriented universities. Scientometrics, 104(2), 489-509

[3] Franco, M., Haase, H. (2015) University–industry cooperation: Researchers’ motivations and interaction channels. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 36, 41-51.

[4] Davey, T., Meerman, A., Galán-Muros, V., Orazbayeva, B., & Baaken, T. (2018). The state of university-business cooperation in Europe.

[5] Moraes Silva, D. R. D., Lucas, L. O., & Vonortas, N. S. (2020). Internal barriers to innovation and university-industry cooperation among technology-based SMEs in Brazil. Industry and Innovation27(3), 235-263.

[6] Rosli, A., De Silva, M., Rossi, F., & Yip, N. (2018). The long-term impact of engaged scholarship: how do SMEs capitalise on their engagement with academics to explore new opportunities?. International Small Business Journal36(4), 400-428.

[7] Ankrah, S., & AL-Tabbaa, O. (2015). Universitiesindustry collaboration: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 31(3), 387– 408.

[8] Rast, S., Tourani, A., Aslan, A. S. (2015) Effect of Organizational Factors on University-Industry Collaboration: a Conceptual Model. International Journal of Business and Management, 10(6), 188- 198.

[9] Ramit, M.F., Senin, A.A. (2015). Success Factors to Reduce Orientation and Resources-related Barriers in University-industry R&D Collaboration Particularly during Development Research Stages, Social and Behavioral Sciences, 172, 375-382.

[10] Khamseh, H. M. and Jolly, D. R. (2008) Knowledge transfer in alliances: Determinant factors. Journal of Knowledge Management, 12(1), 37-50.

[11] Arvanitis, S. and Wörter, M. (2007) Wissenstransfer zwischen Hochschulen und Wirtschaft in der Schweiz aus Sicht der Unternehmen. Die Volkswirtschaft, 80(10), 8-11.

[12] O’Reilly, P., & Cunningham, J. A. (2017). Enablers and barriers to university technology transfer engagements with small-and medium-sized enterprises: perspectives of Principal Investigators. Small Enterprise Research24(3), 274-289.

[13] Franco, M., Haase, H. (2015) University–industry cooperation: Researchers’ motivations and interaction channels. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 36, 41-51.

[14] Dan, M.-C. (2013) Why should university and business cooperate? A discussion of advantages and disadvantages. International Journal of Economic Practices and Theories, 3(1), 67-74

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