We examine how firms assess the value of R & D partnerships with two types of public research organizations: public research institutes (PRIs) and universities. Survey data on Swedish engineering and manufacturing firms suggest that contacts with universities provide firms with impulses to innovation and offer opportunities to learn to a higher extent that contacts with PRIs. Guided by a view of institutes as more oriented towards applied R & D than universities, we also test whether managers perceive institute contacts as contributing more strongly to short-term R & D projects than universities. This hypothesis cannot, however, be verified. Our results suggest that, in terms of perceived effects of R & D managers, PRIs and universities are more similar as collaboration partners than would be expected, given the differing institutional set-ups. Implications for current discussions about the role of PRIs in national research and innovation systems are discussed.