Strategies for university knowledge exchange

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Here, James reports from a workshop held Birkbeck’s Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR) on 29 June.

CIMR logoWhat should a successful Knowledge Exchange strategy look like? This was the question posed by CIMR (Centre for Innovation Management Research) on June 29 as they invited academics, professionals and policymakers for discussion of an issue situated at the heart of Higher Education’s changing landscape.

Knowledge Exchange, sometimes also known as Universities ‘3rd Mission’, is the process in which the exchange of ideas, research results, technology and skills between higher education institutions (HEIs), other research organisations and businesses, the public sector and the wider community takes place. It is widely regarded as the third component in a triumvirate of priorities for Higher Education, also consisting of Teaching and Research, with its aim being to reconcile the productive forces of higher education with the world outside it. Whilst a broad definition of knowledge exchange is fairly clear, understanding how it works in practice and how it should be effected, is a far more nuanced and complex challenge.

Indeed, the wide variety of panellists and attendees at the workshop provided an indication as to the breadth of the debate. The panel, comprising Kellogg College Oxford Visiting Fellow Jeremy Howell, Stanford Professor Henry Etzkowitz (also Birkbeck visiting professor), HEFCE’s Senior Policy Advisor Adrian Day, Birkbeck’s Dr Pierre Nadeau and UniversitiesUK Policy Analyst Martina Tortis, took the diversity of the sector as one of its chief considerations. In a sector comprised of markedly different institutions, the question of strategy and collaboration is one that looms large.

Of course, the most appropriate strategy would be one tied to the characteristics of the institution, one that acknowledges specific strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncratic factors in its composition. However, if there are undoubtedly aspects of knowledge exchange that resist comparison and, which cannot be translated easily, how are we to construct a strategy for moving the sector forward?

Academics, professionals and policymakers come together to discuss what a successful knowledge exchange model looks like

Academics, professionals and policymakers come together to discuss what a successful knowledge exchange strategy looks like

Birkbeck’s Dr Federica Rossi, along with Marti Sagarra from the University of Girona and Eva de la Torre from the Universitat Autonoma de Madrid, offered some key insights as to how we can begin to map such diverse and varied engagement across institutions. Their application of a nonparametric technique, Ordinal Multidimensional Scaling, allowed them to not only give a holistic picture of the strategies and activities of UK higher education institutions, but crucially, to consider how knowledge exchange infrastructure correlates to the objectives, strategies and characteristics of institutions.

Talks from Rosa Fernandez (National Centre for Universities and Business) and Adrian Day (HEFCE) provided further perspective on the issue of Knowledge Exchange, as they considered how it can be made equitable and scalable in such a varied sector. Their work explored how growth in knowledge exchange is rather tied to the strategic breadth of exchange activities and commitment of resources, rather than just institutional size itself. Therefore, a small institution with a commitment to Knowledge Exchange can see sustained growth in its impact, whilst larger institutions without specific consideration for KE can experience stasis or decline in their performance.

With many more perspectives coming from a range of academics and policymakers, from discussion of the Biomedical ‘Golden Research Triangle’ of London and the South East, to a study of organisational models in British Universities, it’s clear that Knowledge Exchange has an important role to play not only in the future development of Universities, but in constructing a future for the world outside it.

You can find out about future events on the CIMR website. Those wishing to know more about knowledge exchange may find HEFCE’s guide informative.

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Academia’s gender inequality problem

This post was contributed by Professor Helen Lawton-Smith of Birkbeck’s Department of Management. Professor Lawton-Smith is organising Improving gender equality in work – what can we learn from London’s business and policy organisations? on Wednesday 18 March, 2pm-5pm.

laboratoryWomen are under-represented in senior positions in science, engineering, maths and medicine disciplines at UK universities. Initiatives including Athena SWAN and the Aurora Women’s leadership programme have been set up to address this problem, yet such initiatives by themselves are not enough to tackle the problem of the current gender bias. What is needed is institutional embedding, so that gender and other diversity issues are integrated into an equality framework of decision-making processes and structures within organisations, which cannot be side-stepped by those in positions of power.

The four-year Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) project at Birkbeck is championing the role of female academics in scientific subjects as part of a five-country European project. This initiative is testing a blueprint designed to raise the status of women in scientific and technological organisations such as universities. The nine action areas are designed to identify barriers to equality in the workplace, including the impact of research. The project builds on Birkbeck’s existing commitment to promoting female academics. Results and reactions have been very interesting.

Equality issues have been tackled in a variety of ways by companies and by policy making bodies such as local authorities and government agencies. According to the New York Times in October 2014, Silicon Valley also has a diversity problem – one which is being tackled head on by companies such as Google and Facebook.

Academia has a lot to learn from how other kinds of large organisation have identified the nature and causes of gender inequality. On Wednesday 18 March the TRIGGER project and the BEI School are hosting a networking event designed to explore which institutional changes work best in supporting gender equality in large organisations. The panel’s speakers will reflect on why changes were necessary, what changes have been introduced, the outcome of those changes, and what still needs to happen to improve gender equality. The diversity of speakers will ensure there are opportunities for learning for all.

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