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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Agribusiness | Business | Education | Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations | Higher Education | University Extension

Publication Details

This paper was presented at the University-Industry Interaction Conference, held in Berlin, German, on 24-26 June, 2015.


Higher education institutions are increasingly expected to support regional economic development through knowledge generation and exchange in collaboration with enterprise and industry. In many geographies small and medium industries form the backbone of regional economies and present best opportunities for employment and export growth. While it is understood that working with higher education learning and research expertise can contribute to competitiveness and success for small enterprises, the reality is that many enterprises experience barriers to these partnerships (Collier, Grey, & Ahn, 2011). Barriers relating to cultural differences, inaccessibility, resources and funding availabilities have been reported. Dadameah & Costello (2011) report that SMEs lack awareness of what higher education has to offer and lack clarity on who to contact to establish links.

In Ireland the agri-food sector is of significant importance, employing in the region of 50,000 people directly, as well as providing the primary outlet for the produce of 128,000 family farms. While it is understood that the technology-intensive information and communications sectors tend to have educational and research links with higher education providers, the researchers sought to explore the extent of those links with the more traditional food sector. The sector accounts for just over half of exports by indigenous manufacturing industries.

This study explores the perceptions of employers in small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in the food sector in the South of Ireland in relation to their interactions with higher education, the potential for their organisation, the barriers to these interactions and key factors which could support the development of broad long-term relationships.

The research methodology employed is a semi-structured interview process and this paper reports on the findings from 26 interviews. The interviewees’ awareness of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) as a higher education provider in the south of Ireland, as well as their expectations and aspirations in relation to interaction with the institute were considered. The research findings indicate a very limited awareness and significant barriers to engagement were reported. Engaging with small and micro enterprises, in particular, presents some challenges for higher education institutions and some recommendations are made for structures, systems and processes in higher education institutions as well as providing a basis for further exploration of university industry interactions and the opportunities for higher education to take intentional steps to enhance and encourage interaction.