Driving Economic Growth Through an Education and Industry Partnership
The Case of the Philippines
Skilled workers are the backbone of a country’s economy, development and ingenuity. Workers with higher education and in-demand technical skills are more likely to thrive and contribute to their country’s journey to self-reliance and resilience. But economic growth doesn’t always go hand in hand with a skilled workforce. Let’s look at the Philippines as an example.
The Philippines is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. According to the World Bank, its average annual growth rate grew from 4.5 percent between 2000-2009 to 6.4 percent between 2010-2017. By comparison, the U.S. annual growth rate is currently around 3 percent.
Despite this rapid economic growth, the country has been playing catch up to its regional peers in the science, technology and innovation sectors.
This is why USAID launched the Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for Development (STRIDE) program in 2013, which was awarded to RTI International and a consortium comprised of Rutgers University, Florida State University, University of Michigan William Davidson Institute, and the local Philippines Business of Education.
The overall objective of this program is to strengthen the science, technology and innovation capacity of higher education institutions in the Philippines. This is so they can be central actors in the development of their country by conducting and applying research, delivering quality education and engaging with communities, as outlined in USAID’s latest Education Policy. Areas of focus included high-growth sectors, like electronics, chemical industries, alternative energy, agribusiness and information technology.
To meet its goals, the program had a three-pronged approach: 1) improve the qualifications of faculty and staff and the quality of research; 2) strengthen the link between academia and industry in high growth sectors; and 3) strengthen policy and management capacity to improve and advance the science, technology and innovation ecosystem.
Interested in learning more about stride?Read the research brief
Building Strategic Partnerships
Prior to the launch of this program, there was little trust between universities and industry in the Philippines. STRIDE adopted “Make Friends, Build Trust” as a motto for creating opportunities and mechanisms that enable industry to collaborate with universities to solve real, technical problems while building research capacity and strengthening institutional capacity.
It was critical to share with university leaders that while building better relationships with industry may bring in more revenue, the focus should be on building relationships and knowledge creation rather than money.
One of the reasons STRIDE continues to be successful in building partnerships with the private sector is its ability to create opportunities for collaboration. So far, STRIDE has worked with more than 200 Philippine industry partners through Innovation Workshops, faculty external internships and guest industry lectures in universities.
The program further strengthened these ties with collaborative research grants, industry-focused career centers and the establishment of Knowledge and Technology Transfer Offices and Career Centers. These offices and Career Centers have facilitated an ongoing dialogue between industry and academia. Engagement with Philippine higher education institutions went from a narrow focus on commercialization of intellectual property to creating one-stop shops for fostering relationships. These offices and Career Centers have also made the case to university leadership that building better relations with industry is the basis for bringing in future revenue and investments.
STRIDE Innovation Workshops have brought together business people and scholars to foster a mutual understanding and collaborative problem-solving. These workshops have been described as a “speed-dating” model between industry and academics coming together to solve sector-specific problems. Teams with promising solutions have been encouraged to apply for STRIDE grants to cement nascent collaborations.
Ongoing collaboration with the private sector also brought about the organic evolution of university curricula improvements based on stronger relationships and contacts, and it has prepared graduates to step into the economy of the future. “To increase graduate employment, you need contact between employers and universities and an employment-ready curriculum,” said David Hall, STRIDE Chief of Party.
Lessons Learned from STRIDE
One of the most significant lessons that has come out of STRIDE is the need to seek institutional diversity locally, instead of focusing only on working with the larger flagship universities. Both USAID and the implementing partner recognized that some of the smaller and lesser-known institutions were more motivated and eager to participate in the program than the prestigious ones. Over time, STRIDE engaged more than 110 Philippine universities and colleges.
When it comes to industry, one of the initial challenges faced by the program was demonstrating to industry that universities have the necessary technical knowledge and the willingness to engage in collaborative problem-solving.
As it often happens, intra-governmental collaboration was also somewhat of a challenge. As mentioned by a senior USAID official in charge of the program, “From the beginning, our goal has been to make friends and build trust. We started with the notion of getting industry and academia together, but we didn’t consider that we needed to help the Departments of the GPH [Government of the Philippines] to make friends with each other. That’s the shift and a key lesson learned.”
Last, but not least, STRIDE focused on lowering gender disparities in science and technology disciplines through a series of sensitization workshops, while opening new doors for accessing grants to smaller and more remote research institutions across the country.
In the end, the program has contributed to changing the behaviors of key actors and the relationships between academia, industry and government in the Philippine innovation ecosystem. Stakeholders agreed that STRIDE has improved research capacity, competence and confidence in universities and university faculty. The program has also improved industry confidence in working with Philippine universities and has created a better understanding of potential collaboration opportunities.
The formalization of industry partnerships typically occurred through grant applications for collaborative research projects. As of late 2017, STRIDE had issued 35 Collaborative Applied Research with Industry (CARWIN) grants ranging in value between $35,000 and $225,000. Partner companies noted that collaborative research projects had the benefit of also building their hiring pipelines, exposing them to undergraduate and graduate students who may be potential future hires.
The establishment of Knowledge and Technology Transfer Offices in 40 universities and career centers in eight universities, has improved the ability of Philippine universities to work with industry and place graduates in jobs. Lastly, the program contributed to increasing government awareness on the importance of innovation and the role that universities can play in fostering it with the right kind of support, such as research grants and funding.