How to Spin the Triple Helix?

- Professor Galazhinskiy, as we can see, the issue of the Triple Helix of university-industry-government relationships in regions is a current topic for discussions at Russian economic forums and conferences. Tomsk State University has been participating in this discourse on all levels, from federal and regional to institutional. Recently, a number of significant events that somehow dealt with the topic has taken place. Our University has taken its stance in all of them. For example, you as a Rector moderated the roundtable “Universities as centres of technological and social development of regions” at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum 2017 in April.   A few days after that, TSU co-organized the All-Russian conference “How universities may become centres of regional innovation development: the role of master’s degree programmes”. It was supported by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. You have also talked about the partnership between universities, government, and industry in regions at the recent forum U-NOVUS-20117.  Does it mean that this topic in different variations is still extremely current and continues developing and gaining new meanings?

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- You are right. This topic has been presented in the Russian discourse for many years.  Moreover, it has been a centre of attention of representatives of various fields of research who have written numerous papers on the matter. However, in reality, very little has changed for the better. Cases of true and effective university-industry-government relationships in Russian regions are still rare. Meanwhile, the results of research of the Triple Helix International Association headed by Professor Henry Etzkowitz showed that innovation breakthroughs are only typical for those territories where such relationships take place. The real synergy can be found only there. As long as the problem of implying the Triple Helix concept has not been solved in Russia yet, it is still a current issue for us.

- But what do we do wrong? Perhaps, we should study the international experience better to imply it here in Russia?

- This was the first thing we did at TSU. We studied it from publications, as well as from communication with the founders of the theory. Three years ago, TSU along with the administration of the Tomsk Region and Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics held the XII Triple Helix Conference. Its theme was “The Triple Helix and Innovation-based Economic Growth: New Frontiers and Solutions”. Professor Etzkowitz, his colleagues from Stanford, and over 400 representatives of research institutes and business organizations from over 35 countries participated in the event. The Conference confirmed once again that universities play a pivotal role in establishing the triumvirate of universities, industry, and government.  It was stated more than once that there is no point in copying anybody’s successful experience, such as the Silicon Valley case. In other words, the core idea is the same for everybody, but it is supposed to be implemented differently in different regions, because we live in different political, economical, social, and cultural contexts.

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- Is there hope for Russia that the “Bermuda Triangle” of the university-industry-government relationships will someday turn into the Triple Helix way of interaction?

- Of course, there is hope. At least, if we acknowledge the necessity to use a different kind of logic when solving the problem. The roundtable, which I moderated at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, was dedicated to new approaches in engaging universities to the process of regional development via the partnerships with industry and government. Until recently, we used to think that such interaction always required a lot of money. As long as there is no money, no Triple Helix concept can be implemented. A lack of resources is considered to be the main problem by many people. This is a typical situation for Russia: if there is money, everything develops. If there are cuttings, everything stops. The truth is that even in times of economic growth the problem of the Triple Helix model implementation was not solved. Universities carried out joint projects with industries and state and public institutions but almost never established cooperation between all these parties inside the same projects. The latter is supposed to bring the synergetic effect.

   How can the situation be changed? This is time to realize that the logic of consumption (give us money and we will spend it) does not work anymore. A real development is only possible when the logic of producing something new appears.

- This sounds very optimistic. How could it look in reality?

- In real life, everybody is interested in such development that brings new resources. For example, development of industry brings tax money and  working places for the government. For industry it means new opportunities and ways to receive profit. For information and advertising business it means  expansion of the client data base. For universities it means that new employers   occur as well as those who may be interested in professional training programmes. Here is something fascinating: if there is a really interesting project that may be useful for all the participants, somehow money is found! This is how the second Tomsk Business Forum is being prepared at the moment. It will be held in autumn by TSU, the Administration of Tomsk Region, and the largest Tomsk media holding Reklamniy Digest. We have consolidated our resources and are waiting for the other stakeholders to join us. 


We organized such Forum last year. It was a success as we gathered over 800 people. We had a lot of positive feedback on the event. This year, we hope to gather about 1000 people offline and 1000 people online. The preliminary theme of the Forum is “Show me how you do it!” It will be about business cases. We are not begging for resources and not dragging anybody against their will. People will come and pay for their participation as it happened last year. There is no doubt that if we received 100 million rubles to cover all organizational expenses, we would not worry about anything from the beginning. But we would not have this drive to attract as many people as possible to participate in the event either! Why bother, if money is already there! Instead, we consider all participants as potential investors. This is how new economy develops: money is received as a result of attempts and self-organizing. 

- Are there any other important conditions that help to establish the true triumvirate of universities, government, and industry, besides the logic of producing something new?

- Yes, there are plenty. For example, we need to develop joint coordinating, consultative, and managing bodies. Those could be university councils of industrial partners that influence university policies and create new working places for graduates. Aside from that, each autonomous master’s degree programme must have its own academic council with potential employers as members who change programmes according to new requirements and demands of the labour market. Rectors need to become members of regional legislative bodies, municipal councils, and rotary clubs. I know from my own experience how important that is.  


Here is an example. At one of the recent meetings of Tomsk Duma, Sergey Zhvachkin, acting Governor of Tomsk Region, said that the next five years would be dedicated to increasing the life quality in the region. This strategy directly correlates with the research that has been carried out by our University for many years. We have found out that the feeling of happiness does not necessarily correspond to people’s wealth. After WWII, the living standards in Europe increased by 40 times and the life quality, which is a broader term, increased only by several times. Different regions show different indicators of the life quality. TSU can provide the authorities with appropriate criteria to measure the life quality in Tomsk and the Tomsk Region. Then the authorities and industry will be able to solve all the problems accordingly to the real situation. If I were not a Duma member, I would know about such thing only from the mass media. Now I can be well informed straight from the source. This is why three members of Duma are university rectors. Universities must feel the pulse of the region to be ready for changes at every single moment.

- Everybody understands that each university and each place have their specific characteristics. However, your cases show that it is possible to come up with some universal recommendations and system models that could help Russian universities to spin along with regional triple helixes.

- This is what the project “Universities as Centres of Regional Development” aims at. TSU, The Higher School of Economics, and the Ministry of Education and Science are involved in the project. At the roundtable in Krasnoyarsk, we discussed the first results of our work. In short, today we have three models of universities’ participation in regional development: 1) Universities’ centres of innovation and technological development of a region; 2) universities’ centres of social regional development; and 3) universities’ think tanks. We also worked on the main requirements for such centres. In order to become members of the project, it is necessary to make a public tender offer. 


What I am saying does not mean that everything is ready for the project to be carried out. We are just in the beginning of our discussion and inviting everybody who is interested. It is important to share experience and initiatives; to exchange ideas about how to enhance competencies necessary for analytical work and negotiations between the members of the Triple Helix projects.

In conclusion, I would like to say that there is one state-of-the-art method to see how well a place is developed. I am talking about the night video shooting from the space stations. Well developed territory looks more electrified at night. We believe that the joint efforts of universities, government, and industry will make the Russian regions bright like new-year trees!

The interview was conducted by Irina Kuzheleva-Sagan