Beyond the usual updates on the latest in venture, this year’s conference will put a special emphasis on the future of venture within research universities. Here’s our take on the matter.
Universities facing the de-monopolization of knowledge research, teaching and service
Prof. Yesha Sivan, Executive Director
Coller Institute of Venture
Let us begin with a fundamental observation of the “de-monopolization” of knowledge, a.k.a. “de-know-polization.” Until the end of the 20th century, universities were the societal leaders in the creation, transfer and usage of knowledge. Today, however, this historical role is fundamentally changing.
Most universities are no longer the best place to do research and teach. Their societal service as hubs of knowledge and innovation can be done more effectively elsewhere. What used to be their natural monopoly is currently under attack.
De-know-polization is both a cause for and a response to the disruption of this old monopoly, rising from globalization and digitization. As de-know-polization reveals itself, university leaders will need to take actions, and justify these actions to their public and private funders, including students paying tuition and taxpayers.
Taxpayers will ask how does university research affect our quality of life? Why do we need to fund professors’ travel and publishing papers that have little relevance to our society? On the other hand, students, their parents, and other funders of education will ask where is the best place to learn? Who gives the best value for the investment?
Where is the best place to do research in computer science? The answer is probably Google, Facebook, Microsoft or IBM. The livelihood of such firms depends on new products and services that stem from their research. Their researchers do not have to teach; they usually have the needed resources of time, money and equipment – and they have business managers that push for value. Private firms, or dedicated research organizations, seem like a better answer than the usual university faculty-driven research or labs.
Most university teaching is akin to horses in the ages of cars. An extra-terrestrial observer will wonder why we keep putting people into the same lackluster context of ineffectiveness potentially causing torture by boredom. The classical model of several students listening to a lecture in the same room is tired, often resulting in only a quarter of students listening, a quarter spending their time in Facebook or Tinder, a quarter sleeping or dreaming based on the previous apps, and the rest are not even in class. Online education, including massive open online courses, is but a small step in the right direction.
Universities that will continue with “older” teaching methods and not embrace the new tools will not be able to justify their funding. Moreover, assuming that we need to fund teaching – shouldn’t we fund it in the best place possible? Could not-for-profits provide a better social service than researchers that also need to teach? Why invest in a ‘jack of all trades’ rather than a ‘master of one’?
What about societal service? We cannot anymore justify the public investment in universities in the age of globalization and digitization. Capital and people are flowing to the best place for their goals. There is much less reason to be near a university anymore, and funding a university with the hope of getting good jobs and firms only diverts resources from other, more effective policy actions – like lower tax with direct impact on business, or enhancing quality of life, itself a pull for economic growth.
Our message to university leaders and policy-makers, further elaborated in the recent issue of Coller Venture Review is to be aware of the various threats and opportunities, particularly when it comes to the evolving role of universities within the evolving venture ecosystem. Don’t think business is as usual – seek new models for research, teaching and service. A plan of no action will lead to an inevitable demise. Business as usual now means no business at all in the future. Better you lead the change, than let the change lead you.
纳税人会质疑大学研究工作如何增进他们生活的质量？假如教授们开会发论文对社会没有产生很大的价值，我们为什么要纳税人支持他们？从另一个角度去看，学生、家长、和其它支持教育体系的人都会问哪里才是最佳学习的地方？哪里的性价比最高？哪里是从事计算机研究的最佳地方？答案可能是谷歌、脸书、微软、IBM。这些企业的产品和服务项目都依靠他们的研发工作。他们的研究人员没有教学的任务；通常也有他们需要的时间、预算、设备等等资源 – 而且还有商业操作的同事替他们的研发成果发掘价值。这种企业或科研单位似乎比大学教授和实验室提供了更好的答案。
那么从社会服务的角度又怎么看呢？我们在全球数字化的时代中也不容易再替大学争取公共投资了。资本和人才一向是向最符合他们目标的方向流去的。那种’必须临近一个大学’的说法现在理由也不那么充分了。投资给一个大学希望能创造出一些企業和它們帶來的工作机会、可能还不如把资源用在更直接政策上 – 比如对企业降税、或投资在能促进经济发展的事、例如增进人民生活质量。
我们对大学的领导和政府的政策制订人的呼吁（在近期的COLLER创业期刊上有更深入的探讨，请参考(http://civ.global/cvr4)是：了解各种挑战与机遇、尤其是大学在创业的大环境转型之中本身正在转变的角色。不做改变是不行的 – 大学必须寻找研究、教学、以及服务上的新模式。守成不变只会造成连基础都守不住。领导改变远比听令于改变要强。