Joaquín M. Azagra-Caro, Laura González-Salmerón, Pedro Marques
University-industry interaction has many supporters and some detractors in the scholarly literature. Framings for science, technology and innovation (STI) policy emphasise that universities interact with stakeholders other than industry and that these interactions contribute to a wide set of goals, such as environmental sustainability. Given the importance of discourse to shape public opinion, we wonder whether academic and policy actors have transmitted this positive attitude towards university interactions. We seek the answer in the representation of university interactions in popular culture. Because public opinion conversely shapes science, we also ask whether this method opens new research questions. Our sample is science fiction novels that have won three of the most prestigious awards in the genre (Hugo, Nebula and Locus), from the 1970s to date. The use of an objective corpus of the literature increases external validity, a methodological novelty in the study of the representations of science. We illustrate how science fiction has been predominantly critical to university interactions, indicating the lack of a convincing institutional narrative about their benefits. In particular, fears to interaction with industry and other stakeholders are equivalent. Other insights include the recommendation for studies on knowledge transfer policy to incorporate critical views of university-industry interaction, including threats to sustainability; the opening of new research questions regarding the defence of non-disclosure of information for political reasons; and visionary examples of conflicts of equity due to the lack of promotion of ‘disengaged’ academics.