Academia and Innovation

Why is there so little innovation in academia and so much demand for innovative thinking outside the Universities?

Depending on the carreer chosen, the country of studies and your university you will have more or less freedom for creative writing and thinking. In America (understood as the whole continent, not only as the United States of America) there is certainly more creative or free style of learning than in Europe.

This has a positive side as it prepares the student to face challenges and tasks that he or she will find in the real world. On the other hand it has a bad side; there are many students who graduate with the minimum technical skills.

In contrast, and despite the entrance of the Bolonia Convention, European Universities still depend on year or mid year difficult exams. One of the reasons relies of course in tradition. The best Universities in Europe are public and have large numbers of alumni, in classroom, which makes it very difficult to have mid year exams or classwork. Moreover, students in some countries in Europe like the traditional academic system.

The traditional european system has without doubts important advantages. In many European exams the undergraduate exams prepare students for the even more difficult state exams. Moreover, the postgraduate courses such as the PhD or the masters offer students the possibility of getting the profesional skills to succeed as a practitioner or as a researcher, or at least this is what business schools and PhD programs offer. Despite these advantages there are important drawbacks of this system. The first one is that a vast number students rely on the traditional public system not only to pass their exams but to organize their future lives as public servants.

This is how the European University has been traditionally organized. The high costs of masters and the difficult access to the academic positions show the difficulties that student face upon finishing their bachelors degree and their desire in many occations to access the public sector for a more stable position.

Moreover, nowadays getting a masters degree is not a guarantee of accessing to the private practice. The private sector is so competitive and many companies and industries are so powerful and competitive and the labor so accessible for them that they normally hire professionals with an already relevant professional background.

The problems of this option have been clearly shown by the financial and economic crisis. Certainly, one of the most hazardous effect of the financial crisis is the unemployment that young people who rely in the public sector have had to face[1] This is specially true in the case of Spain. This unprecedented high unemployment rate has led to study the causes and solutions for this problem. Evidently, one of the most important causes is the absense of entrepeneural and innovative skills among young people[2].

Certainly, sometimes the rigid and traditional norms of European universities are to blame. In other occations the pasive and depending attitude of Young European bachelor students is also a matter of concern. Most Europeans Universities have carreer advisors and workshops designed to approach young students to the private sector. For example, in some Universities there are seminars and courses given by the University professors to prepare students to the difficult world of the legal profession as well as masters despite this effort, in the mayority of cases there are still not enough participants in these events.

The impact of the financial and economic crisis led to the adoption of several measures specially addressed to tackle the problem of unemployment. Some of these measures included the adoption or assimilation of educational programs which offer degrees close to technical professions such as the ones present in Germany[3].

Another measure consisted in the modernization of the programs present in Universities, an initiative that had already started with the Bolonia convention. Other initiatives consisted in the elaboration of convenants between Universities and the private practice and in the creation of adequate policies from the public sector. Despite the correctness of these measures the persistent unemployment problem and the poor economic figures of several European countries led us to reexamine these measures.

A good way to approach might be to examine the lives of very succesful entrepeneurs, business owners and innovators and their relation with academia. Of course the general rule is that successful students are more successful finding a job in the private market. Despite this fact there are very curious cases that in many occations extraordinary men have been mediocre students or even have drop out from University. Some examples of the latter are the cases of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckenberg. Despite droping out there is an undeniable link to their success and academia.

After all, the succesfull projects of these men started as dreams and ideas created in the dormitories and the halls of Universities. What this also demonstate is that really outstanding and creative people soon began to make their own projects or their own schools of thought. This should not come as a suprise, after all the origin of academia can be trace back to the desire of a group of philosophers to create schools of knowledge[4]. Moreover, another crutial issue is that there is an important age to begin the first entrepeneural businesses, the idea is always to make a successfull business.

Nonetheless the there is always a learning process for any venture, this is why the university years are so important. The energy, the curiosity and spirit of this age is ideal for any business or entrepeneurship. The problem is that in some Institutions the course load is so demanding and many times the programs so inflexible that many students end up having to make a decision between studying and undertaking their first proyect. This is certainly one of the reasons why these extraordinary creators and innovators left their studies very soon for other ventures.

The main point of the present article is that despite the irrefutable connection between academia and innovation, there is still great effort and challenges for Universities. Universities should play a crutial role in facilitating the means inside and outside the classroom for students to innovate and interact intellectually. This demands an effort not only from the academic staff but also from students. Students should be active, demanding what is needed at the University, suggesting what kind of new ideas can be integrated in the University and what kind of proposals and innovations can be better to improve the relation between education and innovation.

On their side, the professors, no matter what is their discipline should encourage participation in class the discussion of the relevance of the subject in the present and in the future, this is the way to adequate the needs of education to requirements of the future.




[1] See O Higgins Niall International Labour Office. Geneva. Employment Sector Employment Working paper No. 70. 2010

[2] For more on youth and innovation see Clemensson, Martin, Drying Christensen Jens Dyring, Small Enterprise Programme See how to build an enabling environment for youth entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises. International Labour Organization, 2010.

[3] Some of the advantages of the German educational system can be seen in the article the German system as a model for education and workforce development. Source: last access 07/04/2014.

[4] On the origin of academy see Gardner, Jostein. Sophie’s world Plato s academy page 70.



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