Professor Dr. h. c. Dietmar von Hoyningen-Huene and Dr. Hartmut Richter were members of the Steinbeis Foundation trustee committee for 15 years, shaping the direction of the foundation and overseeing developments objectively from a long-term perspective. They left the Board of Trustees at the end of their final period of tenure in December. TRANSFER took this opportunity to speak to both long-standing friends of the foundation.
Dr. Richter, many small and mediumsized enterprises gain benefit from the activities of the Steinbeis Foundation, especially in the manual trades. As managing director of the Baden-Württemberg Manual Trades Association, you represented and supported the interests of tradesmen throughout the state until the end of 2010. What obstacles do small businesses still face in trying to draw on support from science and academia?
To enlist support, I also need to know what support is available. Put another way: Small companies often don’t have the in-house resources to track technology change and assess its impacts. They need the right kind of information to understand which developments are just emerging from research or shifting into applications which are pertinent to their markets. The Steinbeis Foundation should become more of a technology radar for these companies than it has been. Working on over 20,000 transfer projects a year gives Steinbeis access to an incomparable spectrum of information which has proven its worth in practice.
When you were appointed to the Steinbeis Foundation Board of Trustees, the Transfer Network consisted of several dozen centers. It will soon comprise 900 Steinbeis centers, a variety of independent companies and a private university. What tangible effects has this trend had on your role as a trustee?
It’s had two effects. On commercial independence on the one hand – self-determination within the Network has increased. Our continued existence and potential to develop is safeguarded by our own performance, and this means that the trustee committee, in particular, has to steer the Network coherently along entrepreneurial lines. On the other hand, given these entrepreneurial requirements, the guiding principle of the Foundation, in terms of technology policy, has had to be maintained: Baden-Württemberg, its companies – large and small – have to benefit from the activities of individual centers and the Transfer Network. This aim didn’t always match entrepreneurial developments.
As the Network has expanded, the portfolio of services has also grown. Our centers are now involved in many areas of technology and management, in research and development, consulting, in training and continuing professional development, and expert reports. What advice would you give to the Transfer Network for the next decade?
The functional depth, content and specialization of Steinbeis centers are outstanding. What the Network still needs are transfer agencies tailored to distinct target groups. These would approach specific “sales leads” and be in a position to direct them toward the suitable source of transfer, even if their requirements are often vague or undifferentiated. As more than an example: What about a transfer agency for the manual trades, to promote awareness of relevant technological developments within trades and to set up transfer projects, between and within companies, offering support and evaluating progress. Especially here, with economic structures becoming more and more centralized, there will be many new challenges in the future – or expressed in Steinbeis terms: many new opportunities!
Professor von Hoyningen-Huene, as a representative of universities on the Steinbeis Board of Trustees, and in your former role as rector of Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, you have been involved in the transformation of the old technical colleges in Baden- Württemberg, the Fachhochschulen, into universities of applied sciences. What impact has this change had on technology transfer, which is especially important at universities with a leaning toward business practice?
The technical colleges really have undergone some fascinating developments in Baden- Württemberg. As the long-standing chairman of the technical college rectors’ conference in this state, I witnessed it and, to a certain extent, perhaps helped shape the process. These universities changed from technical colleges into universities of applied sciences (UAS), and were highly successful in establishing and expanding R&D and continuing education, spurred on by special national and state-run programs. The UASs have set up new and appealing degrees, degree systems, and bachelor and master programs, and these have proven their worth through audits and accreditation. These developments have enabled the UASs to establish a client base of professors with a leaning toward research and transfer. Overall, this has allowed these UASs to systematically develop their research performance. These establishments have transformed into key centers of knowledge and technology transfer within different areas of the state. The professors come from business so they are sought-after innovation partners, especially amongst medium-sized companies. One of the defining features of UASs is the applied nature of their teaching, and topicality. To provide this, it’s important that professors and staff are involved in R&D and transfer projects.
Looking back at your time working on committees and maybe just taking a tentative glimpse into the future, what challenges will collaboration between Steinbeis and universities have to overcome and what advice would you give to your successors?
I think everyone working in academia now knows that the overload being experienced by universities at the moment will ease in the years to come, and there will suddenly be heightened competition for professors, students and budgets. This will increasingly make the quality of universities important, in terms of teaching, research and transfer, but also how they interact with companies and international universities. This makes the Steinbeis Transfer Network and the expertise and professional work it does particularly important, as no such equivalent exists in other countries. It will also provide a spring board for promoting the UASs with their development goals in the field of technology transfer and continuing education.
Steinbeis has been a reliable partner to universities, providing fresh impetus ever since the technical colleges were founded. It’s important to match this partnership to new challenges and keep it moving forward.
Apart from your role on a number of committees, you still play an active role in knowledge and technology transfer. What developments do you think will be important for Steinbeis in this area, and how will Steinbeis be positioned in the future?
When I was at Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, which came after a long period in industry, I was initially very closely involved in technology transfer projects. When I was appointed rector, I had to stop doing this. When I entered so-called retirement, I was appointed to the supervisory boards of several medium-sized companies and I advise these companies on topics related to technology change, often with UAS colleagues.
Steinbeis has developed new collaboration models with the UASs, enhancing the appeal of collaboration with the universities, which are becoming increasingly autonomous. I believe that as we look to the future the comparatively small UAS environment will witness an emergence of network structures and this will also involve other kinds of universities. This pooling of resources could result in a more expansive and comprehensive transfer environment. Steinbeis will have to take a stance in this new university environment and keep playing a pivotal role in expanding the range of transfer services and increasing its professionalism.