Industry PhD Schemes: Developing Innovation Competencies in Firms?


The paper addresses the question of how firms develop innovation-related competencies, by looking at innovative firms and their partnerships with universities. We argue that university partnerships are a strategy taken by innovative firms to develop technological competencies and innovation capacity, rather than an approach to source externally developed knowledge. Based on resource dependence theory, we argue that firms of different sizes and investment in R&D have different competence needs, this likely influences the extent to which they collaborate with universities. To investigate this, we carried out a mixed methods study of firms that collaborate with universities to develop innovation competencies by participating in Industry-PhD projects. The analyses show inconsistent results. The qualitative study indicated that small and large firms behave different along the patterns expected. However, analyses based on a survey of firms found that the firms where more similar in their approach to university partnerships than expected; and that development of broader competencies, knowledge in core technological areas, R&D competencies and innovation capability were key results in all firms.

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  1. 1.

    Consult the following web pages for more information:

    CIFRE, FR:

    CASE, UK:

    IPP, SE:

    Ervervs-PhD, DK:

    Nærings-PhD, NO:

  2. 2.

    The survey was part of a set of three surveys, also including a survey to PhD candidates and the universities involved in 135 industrial PhD projects, but only results from the firm survey will be presented here (see Piro et al 2013 for the results of all three surveys).

  3. 3.

    This categorization was made based on the particular sample which reflects particularities in the Norwegian firm population with many small and micro firms, and do not reflect international standards for classifying firms by size.


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The empirical research reported in this paper was funded by the Norwegian Research Council and the Ministry of Education and Science. Their support to this research is gratefully acknowledged. Fredrik Piro, Cathrine Tømte and Dorothy S. Olsen, all at the Nordic Institute for Studies of Research, Innovation and Education, contributed to data collection. Insightful comments to the paper by participants at a workshop on innovation and competence in Oslo in February 2013, and particularly by Siw Fosstenløkken, contributed to finalising the paper. Any mistakes or omissions remain the responsibly of the authors.

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Correspondence to Taran Thune.



Table 5 Overview of interviewed firms

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Thune, T., Børing, P. Industry PhD Schemes: Developing Innovation Competencies in Firms?. J Knowl Econ 6, 385–401 (2015).

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  • Innovation
  • Firms
  • Competencies
  • Industry PhD