February 2004 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Forging Industry-Academia Partnerships

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Economic pressure derived from reduced state and federal funding has fueled escalating tuition costs. As a result, government, taxpayers, parents, and business practitioners are paying closer attention to the activities of business faculty.

Critics contend that higher business education is breaking down, that the system is churning out irrelevant academic research and training students to be theoretical managers incapable of taking responsibility for the performance of others.

Much of this criticism is directed toward business school faculty who are depicted as either unable or unwilling to integrate both research and practical teaching. The result is growing demand among business school constituents to ensure that faculty research and teaching activities address topics relevant to practitioners.

Combining Practice and Theory

Logistics programs, while not immune to such criticism, are addressing these concerns by emphasizing research conducted jointly with industry. Many logistics programs already enjoy strong industry involvement in curriculum development and internship opportunities.

Faculty in these programs become intimately familiar with the concerns, interests, and problems confronted by logistics managers practicing the discipline. This familiarity enhances the relevance of research and helps generate funding. By collaborating with business managers, faculty members gain access to ideas and data that lead to publishable research, which furthers knowledge in the field.

Sharing results of relevant research in the classroom provides faculty with an important means for transferring knowledge and experience.

Beyond the Classroom

The benefits students receive from these industry-academia programs go far beyond those that emerge from classroom lectures and textbook case studies. Instructors who cite current, relevant research results are able to provide undergraduates, graduate students, and executives with direct examples of theoretical concepts applied to the real world.

Graduates then enter the work force possessing leading knowledge regarding logistics principles and concepts—how leading firms manage inventory and transportation, what accounting procedures they use, and what enabling technology makes it all possible.

Hopefully, they become managers who are aware of the value of higher education and are committed to hiring others from the program.

In addition, graduates leave school with an appreciation for university-industry relationships and become willing to participate in interactive activities such as academic research. This spiral effect provides long-term benefits to all constituents of higher business education.

From a practitioner's standpoint, interacting with academia affords managers a chance to guide the direction of academic research. Partnering with academia also provides managers with access to leading-edge knowledge culled from a cross-section of top firms. Such research is often disseminated in trade publications, professional meetings, and executive education, further enhancing the image of participating firms.

In addition, research findings influence classroom teaching, subsequently educating current and future employees. Managers working on joint industry-academic research teams with faculty and students gain insights that may influence future hiring decisions.

Academic-industry interaction provides a basis for removing the barriers between educators and business practitioners in a win-win environment.

Growing the Trend

As in any relationship, small, positive experiences often grow into greater commitment and trust between the partners. With continued success, partnerships between academia and industry may become the expected work environment—rather than unique exceptions—for new faculty, managers, and students.

Logistics educators and practitioners must step forward and lead business schools to this new model. Hopefully, along the way, they will realize the importance of logistics programs to the vast number of business schools, faculty, and administrators.

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