Book Review (Lawton-Smith 2006)

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Universities, Innovation and the Economy

Helen Lawton-Smith.

Routledge (2006), 256pp, £80.00, ISBN: 9780415324939, ISBN-10: 0415324939.

Reviewed by Tim Vorley, University of Oxford.

Over the past twenty years universities have come to constitute an important focus of interdisciplinary research agendas, and so this book makes a timely contribution to these debate. By presenting empirical evidence from Europe and North America the book provides an overview of the changing geography of university-industry relations to understand the emergence of alternative academic paradigms. The book sets out its aim to ‘record the paradigm shifts articulated in policies that are a response to and further reinforce trends already taking place and in which universities are being repositioned in society’s expectations in relation to industry’ (p.4). Until comparatively recently universities were almost conspicuous by their absence from much social, economic and political discourse, but as the long history of collaboration between academia and industry is more explicitly brought to the fore it again warrants examination. As governments across the world have sought to realise the potential of higher education nationally, universities have become central to government policy frameworks to stimulate national, region and local economic growth. The territorial or geographical perspective which Lawton Smith assumes, while not privileged, provides a useful vantage point from which to examine the role and ability of universities to enhance prosperity through participating in the innovation process.

While there has been much work on university-industry-government relations, most notably by Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz, it is evident within the context of prevailing policy models that the role of the university is multiple, with a wide range of intended benefits to society. However, the focus of the book, as with the focus of much policy, is on the economic forms of university engagement and does not detail more intangible, sustainable and/or community forms of engagement except where they have an explicit economic dimension. More specifically in examining the complex dynamics between universities, innovation and economic development the book draws on a range of geography, economic and management literatures, as well as multiple forms of theory, data and methodologies. The structure to the book is two main sections. The first part is a contextual and conceptual discussion of universities, university-industry interaction and territoriality, while the second part is a wellbalanced comparative of Europe and North America, presented in the form of regional overviews and placed based studies which provide interesting illustrations.

The first chapter usefully draws together the histories of universities and territorial development that are currently prominent on political and academic agendas through eight paradigms which characterise the twenty-first century. The eight paradigms serve to provide a useful analytical framework for the book, identifying how universities are positioned in relation to the process of economic development. While the paradigms identified individually constitute an interesting approach, collectively they aptly articulate how universities have become more central to regimes of governance associated with the innovation process and economic development. The second chapter places geography; distinguishing between the forms and rationales of economic engagement by the university. With a focus on primarily science and engineering-based industries, the distinction is made between the co-presence of universities and economic activity, linkages which arise from proximity and those which stem from relationships in shaping geographical patterns of economic and innovative activity. While the book is in itself an overarching review of university transformation in an era defined by the knowledge-based economy, chapter 3 engages with the difficulties associated of metrics and measuring the impact of universities on economic development. Indeed Lawton Smith concludes that the significance of universities for (regional) economic development and innovative activity is overstated, and finds the scant data available can be selectively used to support a variety of arguments. In sum the first three chapters setup the remainder of the book by careful identifying the contemporary universities and situating it in relation to innovation and the knowledge-based economy.

The second section of the book advances the more generic and conceptual discussions through examples drawn from Europe and the United States. Universities and innovation systems constitute the focus of chapter 4 in a European context. Drawing on a range of European countries the implications of shifting EU innovation policy between the 1960s and 1990s were illustrated through the eight paradigms identified in chapter 1. The chapter concludes that policy is intrinsic to creating a more integrated European innovation system, or rather network of national innovation systems, capable competing with the US. Indeed Lawton Smith observes the new system(s) of governance to have seen universities repositioned in relation to the eight paradigms, and seen universities adopt a more instrumentalist position within society. Conversely chapter 5 presents an appraisal as to the evolution of national (innovation) policy in the US, which as in Europe emphasised the role of universities for economic development. However, it is, and historically has been the close relationship between and the shared interests of universities and industry which are a key source of the US’s comparative competitive advantage. Having outlined the policy context of both Europe and the US, chapter 6 identifies the contemporary universities role as an important source of highly skilled labour. A prerequisite of innovation and economic development are local/regional/national labour markets, yet they remain comparatively unacknowledged and under researched. Through the eight paradigms, the contribution of European and US universities to innovation (systems) and economic development is emphasised through understanding the supply, training and mobility of labour

The penultimate two chapters are case studies drawn from Europe and the US. Chapter 7 presents a case study of the twinned towns of Oxford, UK, and Grenoble, France, both of which are ranked second in their respective innovation systems. The case studies serve to illustrate how even within the European context the difference between national (and regional) innovation systems university engagement specific to regions and localities. Furthermore the case studies, through the eight paradigms, show the engagement in realising innovation and economic development to include actors beyond the university, although the university remains central to them. Chapter 8 is based around three case study universities; Stanford, Louisville and Princeton. All three assume different positions within the US national innovation system as well as their respective regional/state innovation systems. In the choice of the US case studies Lawton Smith aptly distinguishes between how universities are positioned within the different innovation systems, and apparently more so than in the European case studies. In both the US and European case studies there is a strong emphasis on the role of universities to contribute to, and deliver, economic development through different forms of innovative activity despite national and regional tensions and difficulties.

The conclusion is again structured around the eight paradigms which provide the framework for the book. Indeed the paradigms serve to provide a series of implicit, normative and positive assumptions from a number of stakeholders about the position of universities in relation to innovation and economic development. The book argues there to be a convergence between the relationships of universities and the economy through the eight paradigms and the collective governance of the state and key stakeholders. Indeed the paradigms serve to illustrate the complexity of the governance systems as well as the complex association between universities, the knowledge-based economy and economic development. Amidst these debates Lawton Smith also addresses a more long-term view about the newfound role of universities as engines of economic development in relation to the sustainability and quality of the research base. Despite these concerns the more generic conceptual discussion in the first part of the book and empirical case studies in the second part show both European and US universities to be driven by normative political agendas as well as being intrinsically territorial. Subsequently the principal themes identified within the book frame the distribution of power in terms of (national and regional) innovation systems, which encourage and promote reciprocity between universities and the economy.

The structure of the book, through the eight paradigms, provides an original and insightful account of the increasing engagement of universities with the (knowledgebased) economy and as a source of innovation. The combination of conceptual analysis and case studies across different scales and sectors makes the book a comprehensive contribution to what have become prominent interdisciplinary debates. Indeed Lawton Smith aptly identifies the dynamics of (national, regional and institutional) governance and policy as central to the increasing prominence of the ‘entrepreneurial university’, but as much for political as economic reasons. While the book focuses primarily on biotechnology and defence, it lays the foundation for further work on non high-tech sectors which constitute a majority of university/industrial engagement. Furthermore with the focus of much (political) policy, and academic research, on more specific and more immediately economic forms of university technology transfer and commercialisation, therein lies an opportunity to extend subsequent projects to include more generic and diverse forms of technology transfer and commercial engagement. In conclusion the book is well positioned in the Routledge studies in business organisations and networks series, offering a valuable contribution and essential reading to those interested in the role(s) of universities in the twenty-first century.

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