Institutional Approach and Contextualization: Previous Research Findings

The importance of universities is based on their achievements in research and teaching, and not on their willingness to make institutional changes (Shattock 2003). Nevertheless, these same changes are necessary to develop these two core missions and to create the modern university environment. Standardization in research and teaching can be established by quality assurance and development (Brennan and Shah 2000). These standardization tools enhance unification of services and processes, and thus produce minimum standards. Additionally, this means a change in the basic expectations of the stakeholders towards the universities. The university as a “Community of Scholars” is becoming the “Community of Practice” (Barnett 2003; Maassen and Olsen 2007). This is a new understanding of quality, which is supported by the development of indicators, standardized processes, audits and peer reviews, and implemented through professional university management. It means a shift in the institutional focus from an academic oligarchy to organization and markets (Clark 1983). The concept of the university described by Weick as a “loosely coupled system” (Weick 1976) has been transformed into new concepts. One of these concepts is aimed at extending the responsibilities of the university as a transformative characteristic (Barnett 2003; Kerr 2001).

The term 'mission' is derived from the Latin word missio (broadcast) and described at the beginning only by the extension of faith. The third mission of the university, however, has more to do with the organizational theory meaning of the term: a mission as a mandate (Altbach and Peterson 2007). In the literature, the third mission is derived from two different perspectives. One perspective focuses on the tasks of a university and subscribes the need to define another mission from the complexity of the tasks (Cross and Pickering 2008; Daxner 2010; Goddard and Puukka 2008; Mahrl and Pausits 2011). The other perspective justifies the third mission through the university as a special organizational form and the associated social role (Molas-Gallart et al. 2002; Montesinos et al. 2008).

Already in the 70s, the German Education Council defined Continuing Education as the third pillar of universities (Deutscher 1975). This aspect was enhanced, not in the least, due to the current debate about the importance of lifelong learning (LLL) and the role of universities in this context. Logical consequences are the development of LLL strategies in all Austrian universities, the establishment of continuing education centres within or outside the universities, and also in establishment of national or international networks for continuing education. It is clear that in addition to education, continuing education advances to core functions of universities. Universities advance from a “partner to teach” in certain stages of life, to a “partner to learn” for a lifetime (Davies et al. 2010).

Another approach to the third mission, from the perspective of tasks, can be made through research and the production of knowledge. In their publication Gibbons et al. (1994) describe the need for greater contextualization of the research, as well as an opening in the direction of the markets, and also the society and other stakeholders, as an integral part of knowledge creation. This means that the relevance of the research increasingly depends upon the customers and stakeholders. The authors refer to this as “Mode 2” and point out a progressive importance of science for and in the society. The new model should move away from hierarchical and discipline-oriented research towards more interdisciplinary and application-oriented research. This describes a widened understanding of research as a second mission of universities. At the end, both teaching and research are confronted with a change in their understanding and organizational purpose.

In teaching, these changes resulted in reform in the structure (the Bologna Process), and in the emphasis and expansion of postgraduate education at universities. However, in research, a number of new concepts (Edquist 1997; Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 2000) on the role of universities in national innovation systems have been developed. This includes the concept of the Triple Helix (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997). They describe the relationship between university, industry and the public sector, and thereby define, in addition to research and teaching, knowledge transfer to society as a further—third—task.

Both changes in teaching and in research indicate an institutional adjustment and modification of the original tasks, or at least an extension of those. In the development of such concepts, the “Entrepreneurial University” described by Burton Clark plays a significant role. The entrepreneurial university takes responsibility for its core tasks and yet, remains flexible and able to adapt adequately to social developments. Obviously, there is not one single approach to the entrepreneurial university (Clark 1998). There are rather multiple examples of good implementation in the national higher education contexts applying to the definition by Burton Clark. It is not about the use of a schematic model of the entrepreneurial university, but rather to find institutional and individual responses for a new type of university. The modernization agenda of universities has many different aspects, however apparently all come together in this “new” third mission. Governments are demanding more accountability from the universities and more responsibility for the funds provided to them. New concepts of universities, such as the University Alto, an integration of three different universities in Finland into single one, or the Danube University Krems in Austria, the only public university for continuing education in Europe, are examples for a new differentiation of higher education. The quest for “World Class University” and elite positions in international university rankings as a measure of achievement on the one hand, and universities with a strong regional focus on the other hand, are two of many differentiations in a new global, national and regional competition for resources (Arbo and Benneworth 2007; Barnett 2003; van Vught 2009). The university will be increasingly characterized by institutional diversity in the future (Clark 2004; Shattock 2003).

Surprisingly, a comprehensive discussion on the third mission at the universities does not take place yet. It is rather dominated by topics viewed by involved actors as more important, such as funding and access to higher education. Both the involvement of stakeholder groups, as well as the gain of an understanding of all stakeholders on the meaning, form and interactions of the tasks in this context, is necessary. Common understanding about the goals of the third mission is needed to enhance further developments in this field. Therefore some of the key concepts are presented in following chapter.

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