Main Findings from the first round of SMEs

The analyses of questionnaire data and the statistical analysis performed provide interesting suggestions, which must be deeply analyzed in order to define a best model for HEIs-SME interactions.

The Italian HEIs

The results emerged from the survey immediately highlight the strong interest of SMEs on the theme of interaction with universities, more specifically:

  • The survey pointed out a strong motivation of SMEs to develop scientific skills and to have deeper knowledge in certain areas through a better cooperation with HEIs for developing new innovations, products, processes and methods

  • The circumstance shows an increase of awareness about the importance of continuous innovation within SME as key element for their competitiveness

  • There are difficulties that SMEs have in assessing the risks related to innovation and research.

  • Universities are still seen as a crucial link between customers and suppliers, facilitating the creation of initiatives that can put the various actors of the production chain in contact to encourage the creation of new working relationships

  • Relations with universities are still based on personal relationships and not on a systemic and depersonalized approach

  • The university is still perceived as a rigid entity, not very flexible, still directed almost exclusively towards large companies and not yet completely able the create moments and places to the exchange of ideas with SMEs in an effective and concrete way

  • High expectations from SMEs in the short-term results and in time management, that prevent the collaboration from becoming effective on the scientific-academic side, and, on HEI side, a too big focus on long term research projects and / or projects at too low TRL levels (Technology Readiness Level).

  • The bureaucracy for hosting a PhD still passes through an excessively complex and long-winded process therefore many companies remain reluctant to create a relationship with

  • A reduction of taxation and dedicated incentives to SMEs would allow the support of PhD program especially in this moment during which Industry 4.0 revolution would favor industrial projects, with real prospects for future collaboration and

  • The existing PhD industrial models (although with slight differences in the different countries) can become a good starting point for a new European PhD courses SME

  • Legislative instruments currently active at EU level (EU National and Regional Financial and Policy funds) can become practical tools for overcoming one of the main

  • A strong willing is detected for workshops and events held by entrepreneurs, to create new professionalizing curricula adapted to the needs of local SMEs, increasing dual training of trainees and creating space for dialogue between entrepreneurs and universities.


The responses from the UK SMEs have provided great similarities in their opinion, in the following issues:

  • The HEIs and SMEs in order to collaborate tend to share research findings and technologies which built the trust between the

  • Different projects and initiatives are bringing the HEIs and SMEs together to share their knowledge and equipment on a regular basis

  • Although some degree of cooperation exists between the HEIs and the SMEs, it is bound by the differences in organizational goal, shortage of required project duration and financial

  • To overcome the barriers of two different types of organization the PhD student can work as a bridge between the SMEs and the HEIs, therefore should be employed by both of the organization.

  • However, there should be a standard in the process that can be similar to the academic PhD process to maintain the

  • As HEIs have good levels of interest to collaborate with SMEs to apply their research findings and knowledge, in order to maintain the cooperation and the knowledge transfer between organizations, the financial support as well as the length and depth of such projects are vital

  • The industrial PhD courses can be similar to that of the academic PhD path; however, replacement or integration of some courses can make the PhD path more

  • Industrial PhD researchers should work with the SME’s work-related research while should be employed by the

The Greek SMEs

Among the main outputs, four ones seem particularly significant.

A first one is that Greek HEIs are a little bit skeptical how a PhD program that aims to provide new technology and theory results could attract SMEs interest. Moreover, HEIs are interested in widening the application field of the ongoing research activities within universities but they mention legislation, administration and support issues that must be solved.

A second one is that the access to specific technologies and equipment could attract SMEs’ interest. Of course, there is tradeoff between academic activities and knowledge and business activities and plan for SME and HEI collaboration. Specific structural and administrative forms could help a PhD candidate to deliver industrial research results on time.

The third one is that the biggest desire outcome from the collaboration of HEIs – SMEs, according to the results, is the effective knowledge transfer and the new products/innovation/methods. Moreover, there is a need for more detailed and specified methodology of how a collaborative industrial PhD program between SME and HEI will provide:

  • a considerable application research result that could support a PhD and attract SMEs’ interest

  • Funding

  • Specific time plane with concurrent administrative issues and roles

  • Intellectual rights properties of the produced technological results

  • Better academic initiatives

In order to reach the mission of the GIENAHS goal some obstacles should be overcome the HEIs belief that PhD should only lead to theoretical results and on the other hand to increase SMEs awareness for adapting R&D innovative methodologies in their production.

The Polish HEIs

Among the main outputs, it is important to consider the following:

  • Polish SMEs have an understanding of why they would need PhD student programme dedicated for them and are reasonable in what they can gain and expect from

  • Polish SMEs expect from the PhD projects above all scientific and personal development of their employees in combination with innovations for their products or

  • Suggested barriers are mostly based on stereotypes based on the past underfinanced HEI situation in Poland and may not be that hard to

  • New European-level PhD programme dedicated for SMEs would have its place in Poland as an alternative and good complement for SMEs to the current government industrial PhD programme.

  • SMEs due to lower employees’ number may rely more on the personal contacts with researchers at the universities. Even though the formal contracts are important, they are just equal, not the preferred form of

  • SMEs in Poland see the necessity of PhD studies customization in case of SMEs-dedicated programmes.

  • Promotion of success stories and good practices sharing should overcome barriers and promote among Polish SMEs new SMEs-dedicated industrial PhD

  • GIENAHS project aims and further actions are well in concert with the expectations of SMEs in Poland.

The Romanian HEIs

Among the main outputs, it should be stressed that:

  • Romanian SMEs have overcome the lack of trust and the new collaboration basis between HEIs and SMEs is ready to be

  • Romanian SMEs expect that the results PhD projects will lead to innovations of their products or processes.

  • SMEs show their need for customized PhD studies according to the SMEs

  • The lack of funds is a real obstacle in the development of PhD programmes for SMEs. However, in the recent years HEIs and SMEs have identified various funding sources for their PhD programmes such as local authorities grant, government grants and European

  • In the past years, the SMEs have appointed special employees to developing working relationships with researchers of the universities, which is good start for long-term collaborations.

  • At the national level, there is a real need for laws to allow the implementation of professional or industrial PhD, which will ease the absorption of European funds for PhD

  • GIENAHS project aims and further actions meet the expectations of SMEs in

The Swedish HEIs

The Swedish results include several differences among the SMEs, like age, size, industry branch, earlier experiences with HEIs, surprising is that the interest in PhD production is very low. Some indicative findings show that:

  • There are no existing issues about trust, which is an important prerequisite to extend or start collaborations HEIs-SMEs

  • SMEs prefer collaboration resulting in products, processes and new knowledge

  • There is a great interest in knowledge exchange, but less focus on long term projects

  • On the other side there is a larger interest in collaboration around MSc thesis than PhD students