University-Industry Collaborations (UICs): A Matter of Proximity Dimensions?



University-Industry Collaborations, UIC, proximity, proximity dimensions, multinational enterprises, MNE


Firms and universities interact with each other despite several barriers hindering their collaboration, such as distances in their worldviews, organizational structures and cognitive capabilities. This suggests that these distances can be bridged in some instances and proximity between the actors may help in the formation of university-industry collaborations (UICs). Proximity, being a multidimensional concept – including geographical and a variety of non-geographical dimensions such as cognitive, organizational, institutional and social – plays a bridging role between the two worlds of academia and industry and facilitates the formation of university-industry linkages. UIC, as well, represents an umbrella term that covers many different types of channels and refers to a broad range of activities as well as outputs of the interactions. Moreover, firms are driven by a variety of different motivations that influence their decision to engage in UICs, which adds to the comprehensiveness of UIC concept.

This thesis, thus, examines UICs from the proximity perspective and aims to increase the understanding of proximity in UICs. It analyses the role, importance and influence of proximities with regards to UICs, which differ greatly in terms of their contents, outputs and motivations. Proximity, through its geographical and non-geographical dimensions, helps in the formation of collaborations between firms and universities. Yet, the influence and importance of different forms of proximity depend heavily on the UIC channels in question and the initial motivation of the firm to interact with universities. Additionally, while proximity dimensions influence UIC outputs generated, the collaboration process might also have an impact on changing the proximity between actors.

Despite the overall acknowledgement of the multidimensional character of the proximity concept, it is generally assumed that geographical proximity is a strong facilitator of interactions between academia and industry. However, several UIC activities, such as co-publishing, can be geographically dispersed since the collaboration of actors over large distances is possible. In addition, multinational enterprises (MNEs) present a rather unique configuration for the analysis of the importance of geographical proximity in UICs owing to their distributed organizational structures across different geographical locations. This dissertation, hence, examines the importance of geographical proximity for MNE’s collaboration with universities. Through a case study of copublication partnerships in the MNE-university setting, the findings demonstrate that the propensity to collaborate with regional vs. nonregional universities varies by the location of subsidiaries. While this may be caused by the differences in the influence of geographical proximity for different subunits within an MNE, it may well be due to some other factors which lead to different outcomes for the geography of UICs. This suggests a need for the inclusion of non-geographical dimensions of proximity in order to explain better the influence of proximity dimensions in UICs alongside the geographical dimension.

Previous studies have seldom taken into consideration the multidimensionality of the proximity concept of and UICs. They rather limited their scope of analysis by covering a limited number of proximity dimensions and UIC channels. This implies that most of the prior studies falls short of providing a thorough analysis of proximity dimensions in UICs. Therefore, following the proximity framework suggested by Boschma (2005), this dissertation presents a novel and comprehensive model that examines the significance of different proximity dimensions across UIC processes. With a quantitative methodology applied via the econometric examination of a survey conducted with 1201 firms, the empirical results highlight the variation in the significance of proximities by UIC channels and outputs. The findings indicate that cognitive proximity and institutional proximity have greater importance for knowledge exploration UICs, while geographical proximity matters less for this type of collaborations. For UICs oriented towards knowledge exploitation, social proximity is more important, whereas organizational proximity matters less for advice-seeking collaborations. There is a growing interest in the dynamic aspect of proximity, implying that interaction processes increase the proximity levels between the actors and proximities co-evolve during interaction processes since they are interrelated and interdependent (Balland et al., 2015; Broekel, 2015). However, the dynamics of proximity have not been examined extensively in UIC context. In this dissertation, this aspect has been addressed by looking at the outputs of UIC processes from the perspective of learning effects represented by non-geographical dimensions of proximity as intangible outputs. Drawing on the use of survey data, the results indicate a close relationship between the formalization of interactions and tangible outputs – such as patents – as well as the contribution of interaction processes in the development of non-geographical proximity regardless of the UIC types.

Additionally, the motivations of firms in engaging in UICs vary across firms, and this has implications for who they choose to collaborate with. Different motivations may affect whether the firms collaborate with the university partners located either in proximity or at a distance. Similarly, the existence of non-geographical proximities may affect the spatiality of UICs, suggesting an interplay between geographical and nongeographical aspects of proximity. Yet, these two factors – motivations and non-geographical proximities – have not been examined within the scope of a single study. This dissertation, however, investigates whether and how firm motivations and non-geographical dimensions of proximity affect the geographical aspect of interactions between firms and universities. The results illustrate that UICs motivated by the need for capacity development and relying on cognitive proximity are less sensitive to distance, while geographical proximity matter more for firms intending to create societal impact and building their collaboration on institutional and social proximity.

Author Biography

Utku Ali Riza Alpaydin

University of Stavanger
UiS Business School


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