Comparative analysis of innovation support models at higher education institutions in South Africa.
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Research universities broadly have integrated scientific research as a core component of their teaching mission and are frequently the source of technological innovation. The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) likewise, seeks to give effect to its vision of being the premier university of African scholarship in its research endeavors and is currently ranked as one of the “Big Five” research institutions in South Africa. However, despite UKZN’s high research publication output, there is negligible patenting at UKZN. This study therefore investigated why there is that anomaly and carried out a Comparative Analysis of Innovation Support Models at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in South Africa. Based on the research findings, this study provides some useful insights on how Innovation Support Models in South Africa in general and UKZN in particular, can best be structured to achieve success. The study highlights the extent to which patenting affects publication (for example whether patenting hinders publication) with particular emphasis on the “Big Five” research universities in South Africa. Some of the factors that affect innovation at the HEIs, which this study reviewed, include the institutional arrangements for the management of Intellectual Property and technology transfer capacity. The study reviews literature on the roles that universities play in the national innovation systems, the complex institutional landscapes that influence the creation, development and dissemination of innovations at global and national levels. The literature shows that countries worldwide, including South Africa, are striving to stimulate innovation as a fundamental source of competitiveness and are building on locally generated Intellectual Property (IP) from Research Institutions. To arrive at the findings, this study adopted a case study approach by examining innovation at UKZN in some detail. Purposive sampling was used to select the “Big Five” research institutions and an additional three HEIs were selected through judgment sampling. Out of a sample size of eight HEIs, a response rate of 75% was achieved. The case study and the interview analysis showed that HEIs use more than one indicator to measure their performance. These indicators include: the number of disclosures, number of patents, number of breakthroughs to the industry, number of projects managed within the innovation portfolio, the level of efficiency of innovation systems and tools, successful commercialisation of projects and the income generated. While there are several good innovation performance indicators, this study recommends the patent system, which is accepted internationally as a good yardstick and is used in South Africa by the Department of Science and Technology to monitor technological performance. Patents are valuable because they provide a researcher with a coherent set of data across countries and specific technological fields for long time series. Proper use of the patent system could result in additional publications to the researchers and could facilitate the transfer of new technology to the industry. Despite delays in obtaining patents, the patent system has the benefit of securing the researchers with a priority date for their work. This study further shows that there is a low rate of patenting by South African HEIs at both local and international level. The existence of IP management policies at HEIs and patenting appears to be correlated given the fact that HEIs with IP policies and established structures performed well in the area of patenting. Improvement of infrastructure and availability of highly skilled and creative researchers coupled with proper management of IP is necessary for successful commercialisation. A useful tool for enhancing commercialisation would be a mechanism for increasing the number of disclosures of inventions made by researchers to technology transfer offices. This study therefore recognizes that achieving research and innovation excellence in South African HEIs, especially in UKZN, requires breaking down existing barriers within and outside the institutions while building a collaborative and entrepreneurial culture.