Determinants of success in science-industry cooperation: case of Slovenia

Maja Bucar
Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana

Matija Rojec
Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana

Science-industry cooperation, i.e. cooperation between universities and government or public research institutes (public research organisations - PROs), on one side, and firms, on the other, has attracted considerable attention in the literature as well as in the policy discussions. Slovenia as a small country has been trying to promote such cooperation in its S&T policy since the nineties, with limited success. Of the countries that have joined EU in 2004-2007, Slovenia was the first transition country, which managed to join the group of innovation followers according to the EIS, and is now in the group of strong innovators (EC, 2018). Yet, the degree of cooperation between the public science sector and business R&D has been identified as one of the weaker elements of the country’s innovation system by OECD (2011), ERAC (2010) as well as national evaluations (RISS, 2011) and more recently, by the EU (EU PSF 2018). The promotion of cooperation has been a focus of several policy actions over the years, with several instruments, mostly copied from innovation more developed countries. The experience of Slovenia can therefore be of relevance to other smaller, research & innovation less intensive countries.

The paper looks at the policy instruments, designed to stimulate cooperation to assess their impact. It describes main instruments, their intervention logic and evaluations at the instrument level as well as at the level of R&D data. Also, through three detailed case studies of identified cooperation cases the paper looks at the motivation behind cooperation, to identify problems and obstacles on the side of business entity and the side of research institution. Based on the relevant theoretical considerations and existing empirical evidence we tested the hypotheses that frequency and extent of science industry cooperation depends on: (i) the extent and nature of firms’ in-house R&D and innovation activity, which also determine their absorption capacity, (ii) the existence of quality research and scientific productivity in PROs, critical mass of knowledge in specific areas of expertise, and on motivation of researchers, (iii) the development of a portfolio of intermediary institutions and their quality, and on (iv) the adequacy of national policy and institutional framework, supporting science industry cooperation.

The case studies show remarkably high consensus among the interviewees on the determinants, problems and other aspects of science industry cooperation, regardless of the fact that they come from very different industrial sectors. The interviewed partners are relatively satisfied with the cooperation and the results have mostly met their expectations. Strengthening of firms’ in-house R&D departments and staff, and clustering of firms around the most propulsive ones is the precondition for more science-industry cooperation. Successful science-industry cooperation can only be developed gradually, most often on the basis of previous personal contacts between main actors on both sides.

Still, we noticed a lot of barriers to more fruitful and intensive science-industry cooperation. The interviews reflected quite a pessimistic view of science-industry cooperation in Slovenia in general. The impact of the R&D support measures and instruments was found as non-significant, primarily because of frequent changes of instruments and excessive bureaucracy. Frequent changes in policies and support measures do not create a positive environment for cooperation. Stability in the innovation policy, in the evaluation criteria as well as in the support measures is what makes the framework more supportive to the risky undertakings like science-industry cooperation. Instead of copy-paste measures from advanced countries, Slovenia, as well as other small, innovation less-developed countries, needs to assess their own specifics and design measures in accordance with characteristics of their national innovation system.