Resource paper prepared by Ben Jongbloed (CHEPS, University of Twente)
The University of Twente (UT), based in the east of the Netherlands, was established in the year of 1961. It is a medium-sized university with a strong engineering core, next to a social sciences base. The UT is very much known for its entrepreneurial character. This case study builds on two other HEInnovate resource papers devoted to the University of Twente:
- Leadership and Governance at the University of Twente
- Entrepreneurship development at the University of Twente
In the first of these, the organizational structure and some key characteristics of the university are presented. The second describes the various initiatives, units and activities in the university that are somehow connected to the goal of encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation.
Entrepreneurship is a major part of the university’s strategy. Since 1986, and long before any other Dutch university, the University of Twente has profiled itself as the entrepreneurial university. It is regarded as one of the leaders in entrepreneurship and venturing. It has a strong track record of creating spin-off companies and providing support to entrepreneurial students and academics. The purpose of this paper is to describe the systems and tools in place at the University of Twente to monitor and evaluate the activities and performance in the area of supporting entrepreneurship, both in education and research. This case study focuses on the aspect of valorisation and its measurement. Valorisation is the Dutch term for knowledge exchange, or “creating value from knowledge.” It is often referred to as the third mission of the university (Jongbloed & Zomer, 2011). Valorisation is an important core value within the University of Twente as well as in other universities in the Netherlands. Valorisation is regarded as part of the tasks of every scientist. Monitoring valorisation at the various levels and units in the university is becoming a standard practice. However, monitoring and evaluation progress in this area is not yet fully developed and the way it is implemented very much differs across universities.
The Twente record
The University of Twente has been extremely successful in a powerful actor in the area of valorisation. The university’s collaboration with Overijssel Province, the city of Enschede, Saxion University of Applied Sciences and the region of Twente in the Kennispark Twente Foundation has generated phenomenal results over the years. The number of start-up companies in the region is higher than the national average, and Kennispark – the science park – was crowned the Netherlands’ best business park for 2014. The science park houses some 470 companies, offering employment to more than 6,000 jobs, making it the biggest science park in the Netherlands (Buck Consultants, 2018). Through Novel-T and several other innovation funds (e.g. the Dutch Student Investment Fund), the university offers start-up support.1
The university’s success in this area is reflected in a large number of innovations and spinoffs (e.g. the company Booking.com). In 2013, 2015 and 2017 the university was awarded the prize of most entrepreneurial university in the Netherlands.2 This was based on a combination of its performance in terms of producing spin-offs, providing seed capital, applying for patents and numbers of employees working in the Science Park (see Figure 1). The picture show how the University of Twente is doing compared to other Dutch universities.
Figure 1: Entrepreneurial universities in the Netherlands
Source: Science Works 2017 Impact Ranking
The University of Twente is an acclaimed driving force in the regional ecosystem. It supplies research and human capital to local companies, accommodates hundreds of enterprises, and plays a key role in new venture creation. Overall, the UT produced more than 1,000 spin-off companies, each having over nine full-time employees, on average (Meerman, 2017). Regarded as one of the world’s leading nanotechnology research institutes, the university’s MESA + Institute for Nanotechnology has delivered research that generates annual turnover of €50m, established 50 high-tech spin-offs, and created 1,000 jobs in the region. The centre also shares its laboratories with industry partners for prototype development, testing, and equipment use, leading to 40% external users.
The latest edition of U-Multirank (2017) reports an average of 11 newly founded graduate companies per 1,000 graduates. Furthermore, in the past three years, the university was annually awarded 13-16 patents (Kopelyan & Nieth, 2018). The University of Twente was also an early generator of triple-helix type collaborations between businesses, authorities, and knowledge institutions in the province and the Dutch-German border region (EUREGIO). Interestingly, while the share of research publications in co-authorship with regional partners (within 50 km) increased over the past three years from 7,3% to 8,7%, the share of income from provincial sources slightly dropped, from 12% to 10% (U-Multirank, 2017).
The goal of the university is to create between 30 and 60 start-ups per year of which 15 are spin-offs based on intellectual property (IP) coming from the University of Twente. However, after the year 2015 the number of start-ups and spin-offs levelled off significantly. In the year 2016 five spin-offs were created and 14 start-ups.
The University of Twente’s valorisation ambitions are included in its strategic plan as well as in the 4TU Federation’s valorisation strategy – the 4TU Impact Plan (4TU Federation, 2017). As a member of this university alliance (see https://www.4tu.nl/en/), the University of Twente has big ambitions in terms of creating start-ups, spin-offs, working with industry and providing entrepreneurship training to students. The university’s Impulse Programme is part of the 4TU Impact plan and aims to bring join industry partners with researchers in the university. Financially backed by the University of Twente’s Executive Board, institutional/departmental resources, and private parties with investment totalling €40m, the programme will have an intake of 100 doctoral students, to specialise in the industrial research areas.
Another initiative is the university’s Innovation Voucher Programme, that encourages the university’s centres of expertise to maintain close ties with the relevant business community and share their facilities with third party actors. As an incentive, 50 innovation vouchers valued €10,000 each are offered to the Centres of Expertise to attract new partners.
Monitoring and evaluation
Valorisation activities are monitored regularly by the board of the university, through an advisory committee of representatives from industry and academia. This committee advises the Executive Board and the team of scientific directors on the programme research and collaboration.
More particularly, the board of the Foundation Kennispark Twente is held accountable to its five founding institutions as external investors: the University of Twente, Saxion University of Applied Sciences, the city of Enschede, the Twente region and the province of Overijssel. These founders approve the annual plan and budget, and the board presents an annual report to the founders to account for its activities. The board members and the founders regularly meet to discuss the progress based on the metrics in the annual plan.
Despite the monitoring and evaluation systems in place to measure the valorisation activities in the University of Twente, impact is mostly seen in terms of indicators such as the number of spin-offs, collaborations with the industry, and percentage of third-party funding. A deeper insight into the less quantifiable, but equally crucial, impact of the university’s entrepreneurship and training activities, for instance, the change in the attitudes and behaviour towards entrepreneurship, remains underdeveloped.
As agreed in a General Agreement signed in 2012 between the Ministry of Education and the Dutch university sector, the universities started working on developing and using valorisation indicators. According to the agreement, higher education institutions were to work on making valorisation more transparent, through reporting on entrepreneurship education and the other activities aimed at valorisation. Over the years, potential indicators for monitoring valorisation activity were proposed by several agencies (e.g. Van Drooge et al., 2011). However, so far a fixed set of indicators to be used by each university is not available. Each institution is reporting on valorisation through a combination of indicators and qualitative statements (i.e. narratives). The indicators very much differ between institutions, reflecting the different institutional missions.
Valorisation indicators started appearing in the universities’ annual reports in recent years only. In addition, the universities collectively produced a website (Valorisatie in Beeld, maintained by their umbrella organisation VSNU)3, featuring a diverse array of valorisation indicators and valorisation narratives for each university. The University of Twente together with the Delft University of Technology and Eindhoven University of Technology jointly tackled the task of drawing up their valorisation indicators for this website. The valorisation indicators presented by the University of Twente relate to:
- exchange of students and staff
- entrepreneurship and business activity
- knowledge transfer
Collaboration is about carrying out research projects funded by business and public sector organisations. The results show up in publications. The projects address the needs of companies and society. In 2015, the external revenues resulting from the projects amounted to some 30% of the total revenues of the university. In 2016 this was 25%. Cooperation with companies often may result in scientific articles that are written and published together with researchers from companies.
Student exchange and exchange of staff is another part of valorisation. Students carry out internships and complete thesis assignments in/for companies and social organisations, thus contributing to knowledge exchange. The number of such internships and thesis assignments is reported annually. Through professional doctorates in engineering (PdEng) another exchange channel is opened up between the university and companies. Each year, between 120 and 150 of the university’s professors carry out additional, external activities next to their academic tasks, for instance through participating in boards, Boards of Trustees, by giving advice, or by (partly) working in a non-university organization. In this way they contribute to knowledge exchange.
The third valorisation area is entrepreneurship and business activity. Entrepreneurship education prepares students for starting their own company (start-up). The UT offers a minor, six bachelor modules and three Master modules, often tailored to specific programs. In 2015, 666 students took part in this. They gained a total of 6,100 credits (ECTS). According to the 2016 annual report, these numbers were 1,110 students and 7,582 credits in the year 2016 and in 2017 1,291 students and 11,455 credits. This shows that entrepreneurship is very much on the rise in the university.
Creating spin-off and start-up companies is a key objective of the University of Twente. Measuring the number of spin-offs and start-ups requires clear definitions. These are the ones adopted by the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU):
‘A spin-off is a company expressly established to develop or exploit IP (intellectual property) or know-how created by a Public Research Organisation and with a formal contractual relationship for the use of this IP or know-how, such as a license or equity agreement. Include, but do not limit to, spin-offs established by PRO staff. Exclude start-ups that have no formal agreement for commercially developing IP or know-how created by the institution.’
‘A start-up is any new registered company involving either people (staff or students) from the Public Research Organisation that is not directly involved with the exploitation of the IP generated within the PRO.’
In 2015, five companies (spin-offs) were started by university staff based on a formal transfer of intellectual property developed at the university. In 2017 the number was six, according to the university’s annual report. Spinning-off is about innovative research that has a direct societal value in terms of creating employment and economic growth. Furthermore, the university provides an excellent breeding ground for activities that do not involve a direct formal transfer of intellectual property. For example, various companies were started by the university’s graduates. The number of companies, however, is not registered so far.
Patenting and invention disclosures and knowledge transfer in general constitute the fourth pillar of knowledge valorisation. In terms of intellectual property, 34 new discoveries (invention disclosures) were reported in 2015 within the university, 15 promising findings were legally protected by patent applications, and 17 knowledge transfer agreements were concluded. In ten cases these concerned licence agreements, and in seven other the knowledge was transferred to a spin-off in exchange for shares. In 2017, the number of invention disclosures was 38; 17 patent applications were filled and seven transfer agreements were concluded (three of them licensing agreements; four led to an exchange for shares).
Another way of knowledge transfer is the delivery of graduates to society. In 2015 as well as in 2017, 86% of the university’s Master’s graduates found a job outside the university, in businesses and public organisations.
These figures are reported annually in the university’s annual report.4 In addition, for its internal processes and performance management, the university employs a Planning and Control cycle procedure. According to this procedure, the executive board of the university meets with the boards of the university’s five faculties and its research institutes to discuss ongoing activity in light of ambitions. There are two meetings each year (in spring and in autumn) and monitoring is partly taking place by means of quantitative indicators. However, in all cases there is room for qualitative information. The Key Performance Indicators used in this Planning and Control cycle are defined by the Executive Board after consultation with the Deans and the Scientific Directors of the research institutes. The focus of planning and control is on monitoring progress towards the goals specified in the university’s strategic plan (Vision 2020), including its valorisation ambitions.
It is good to note that while a regular monitoring takes place on a yearly basis, the measurement of the impact of valorisation in terms of its economic and social implications is a much more complex endeavour. Figures about the number of students engaged in entrepreneurship courses across faculties and departments and their level of satisfaction is one thing. However, it is perhaps even more important to learn whether entrepreneurship teaching changes the students’ perceptions and attitudes and contributes to entrepreneurship skills development. This is a much more sophisticated and complex area, one that is so far underdeveloped. Qualitative assessments of valorisation impact, telling the ‘stories behind the numbers’ and providing narratives, will continue to be important to learn about the impact of a university’s activities in terms of contributing to innovation and entrepreneurship.
4TU Federation (2017), 4TU Impact plan (https://www.4tu.nl/valorization/en/4tu-impactplan-20180620.pdf)
Jongbloed, B. (2018), Overview of the Dutch science system. CHEPS Working Paper. Available online at: https://www.utwente.nl/en/bms/cheps/research/CHEPSWorkingPaperSeries/
Jongbloed, B. and Zomer, A. (2011), Valorisation, Knowledge Transfer and IP: Creating Value from Academic Knowledge. In: Temple, P. (ed.), Universities in the Knowledge Economy. Higher education organisation and global change (pp. 82-102). London & New York: Routledge.
Kopelyan, S., and L. Nieth (2018), Regional Mission Impossible? The Twente Region and the University of Twente. RUNIN Working paper. Available online at: https://ris.utwente.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/22081709/02_2018_Kopelyan_Nieth_Twente_Regional_Mission_Possible.pdf
Meerman, A. (2017). University of Twente: The entrepreneurial University of the Netherlands through high-tech and human touch. Retrieved from https://ub-cooperation.eu/pdf/cases/W_Case_Study_Twente.pdf
Science Works (2017), Impact ranking 2017.
University of Twente (2014), Vision 2020: Innovate, Experiment, Pioneer. Retrieved from https://issuu.com/utwente/docs/14337_brochure_vision_2020_eng
1 Its activities are described in more detail in another paper (Entrepreneurship Development at the University of Twente) to be found on the HEInnovate website.