Higher Education

, Volume 64, Issue 2, pp 237–265 | Cite as

Beneath the tip of the iceberg: exploring the multiple forms of university–industry linkages

  • Irene Ramos-Vielba
  • Manuel Fernández-EsquinasEmail author


This article focuses on the wide variety of channels through which the process of knowledge transfer occurs. The overall objective is to show the complexity of relationships between researchers and firms in a university system, and to identify some specific factors that influence such interactions. Our case study involves a face-to-face survey of 765 heads of research teams in a regional system to contrast the multiple forms of university–industry collaborative linkages. Drawing on the exploitation of a data set developed for the purpose, we show that for a majority of universities the thrust of their collaborative experiences is devoted to tacit knowledge rather than to intellectual property rights. Researchers actively engage in the provision of different services to firms such as consulting work, commissioned or joint research projects, and human resources training. Research teams also participate in non-academic knowledge dissemination and informal networking. The results of our study enable us to draw some policy implications for university administrators and policymakers. A focus on patents and spin-offs as indicators of collaborative research ignores the limits of many of the economic and productive contexts in which universities are embedded. It may also be detrimental to the strengthening of emerging trends that are oriented towards softer collaborative experiences and other forms of knowledge transfer.


University–industry relationships Knowledge transfer Intellectual property rights Regional university system 



A previous version of this article was awarded as ‘The Best Paper’ at the Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy, held at The Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA, USA, 2–3 October 2009. The authors would like to thank the organizers of the Atlanta conference and the Award Commission for this concession. We additionally thank Naubahar Sharif for his valuable comments and to the anonymous reviewers of the paper for their useful suggestions. The authors also express their gratitude to Richard Woolley for his editing help, to Nuria Hernández for her contribution to the field work and to Elena Espinosa for her assistance with the statistical analysis. This work was possible thanks to a project grant within the Regional Plan for R&D and Innovation awarded by the Government of Andalusia, Spain (Ref. 2005-00873). The authors thank the support of Manuel Pérez-Yruela in the development of this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irene Ramos-Vielba
    • 1
  • Manuel Fernández-Esquinas
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Ideas FoundationMadridSpain
  2. 2.Institute for Advanced Social Studies (IESA)Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)CórdobaSpain

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