Roles of Universities in Clusters: The University of Otago and the Dunedin ICT Cluster
Cluster actors have the advantage of face-to-face interaction due to geographical proximity, which allows knowledge exchange with universities within clusters. The co-location of cluster actors provides an environment that builds social capital and develops cognitive proximity. In general, small and medium-sized businesses lack absorptive capacity, as they lack resources and skills. To overcome their limited absorptive capacity, businesses in clusters can use consulting, technical support services, and human resource mobility for knowledge exchange. This is best done through face-to-face interaction, which is encouraged by the geographical proximity of cluster actors. Hence, small and medium-sized businesses in clusters with universities have an opportunity of overcoming their lack of absorptive capacity by engaging in consulting engagements with universities. Technology transfer offices (TTO) work with businesses with higher absorptive capacity, and are therefore typically not a suitable channel for interacting with small and medium businesses. Literature shows that curriculum-based programmes such as capstone projects and postgraduate thesis studies have had students successfully interacting with businesses through consulting as well as generating spinoffs. Engaging students in university-business activities will fulfil all three missions of universities: teaching, research, and economic and community development. These activities provide services to local businesses, create a better student learning experience, and produce graduates with real world experience. In addition, engaging with businesses provides universities with tacit knowledge for research purposes. An exploratory approach, using qualitative methods, was taken to investigate university-cluster activities affecting local businesses. It incorporated (a) case study techniques for selection of case units, and rigour in managing the structure, reliability, and validity of the study, and (b) grounded theory techniques for data preparation and analysis to emerge theory. Twenty-five in-depth interviews were done with university academics and administrators, businesses, intermediaries of the information and communication technology (ICT) cluster in Dunedin, New Zealand, and participants external to the ICT cluster in Dunedin. Following the grounded theory approach, data analysis was done in parallel with data collection, which emerged a new concept of university students’ participation in university-business activities. This required additional literature review and additional interviews to develop the new concept.The findings of this study show that student-centred extracurricular activities provide opportunities for students to engage in entrepreneurial ventures and consulting engagements, while student-centred curriculum-based activities have the potential to improve cluster outcomes. By engaging student-centred activities, there is an opportunity for more university-cluster interaction supporting local businesses, student skill enhancement, and potential research data for academics and students, thus fulfilling universities’ missions of teaching, research, and economic and community development.
Advisor: Everett, André; O’Kane, Conor
Degree Name: Master of Business
Degree Discipline: Management
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: universities; clusters; knowledge exchange; absorptive capacity; geographic proximity; student-centred activities
Research Type: Thesis