Value co-creation in university-industry interaction

Laura Sivula
Aalto University

The changing nature of work has set a challenge for higher education to make sure that graduates have the necessary skills not only in their discipline but also in transversal skills needed to succeed in the future of work. Universities are developing from information repositories to spaces where students can solve complex real-life challenges and develop their worklife capabilities. In the exponential world, we live in needs for lifelong learning are growing and industries want to be involved in educational activities on a deeper and more meaningful level.

Traditional forms of university-industry cooperation lack strong integration in teaching and learning activities. In this paper, we explore value co-creation in an educational program taught at Aalto University and conceptualise supporting processes and resources, providing a framework for rethinking the role of educational programs as systems for university-industry interaction. The educational program investigated in this paper has been continuously taught annually since 1995 and has an alumni community of more than 1500 students and over 400 industry partners. The aim is to understand the dynamics of value co-creation in an educational program and provide a practical viewpoint, based on longitudinal experience, to the processes and structures of a program successfully supporting university-industry interaction.

In this paper, value is created collaboratively in a learning system using challenge-based learning methods. It centres on the participants, processes and resources that interact in an educational program. The participants are the students enrolled in the program, industry partners providing real-life challenges in the form of projects, academic and industry lecturers, and supporting staff members. The processes are the structure of the program, project management methodology and evaluation and feedback cycles. The resources are the industry provided real-life challenges, multidisciplinary student teams and courses based on needs of future of work.

Challenge-based learning is a call to action for students to engage with theories and current themes and apply them to the real world. Through learning experiences, students are encouraged to research their topic, brainstorm strategies and concepts, which build up to solutions that address the changing landscape of the economy and society. Providing students with conceptualised real-life learning experiences together with industry partners builds the students work-life capabilities. Industry partners receive new innovative ideas and are involved in the learning process by working with students. Knowledge is shared in a co-learning ecosystem by all participants – the students, lecturers, industry partners and support staff members.

Educational programs as value co-creation systems drive innovation and develop the skills of tomorrow. Conceptualising the roles of participants, supporting processes and needed resources contributes to the discourse of university-industry interaction and offers practical insight into building such systems. Designing and delivering curricula for the skills of tomorrow calls for a systematic approach towards building ecosystems, where students, academia and industries meet.