On 1 February, 15 university leaders and managers from 13 European countries gathered at the EUA focus group hosted by Aalborg University in Denmark to discuss the role of universities in innovation ecosystems and exchange views on the findings of a study on the topic soon to be published by EUA.
Innovation is driving large societal transformations such as digitalisation, globalisation, and rapidly changing labour markets, and it is key to solving major challenges from climate change to social inequalities. As problems become more complex, sustainable solutions can often only be found by combining knowledge and expertise from many different fields and actors working together in an open reiterative process. Since knowledge is central to this process, universities as knowledge creating institutions become central actors in open innovation, and they often play an important role in orchestrating the interplay of various actors in an innovation ecosystem. This enhances their role in society and also has an impact on their core missions of teaching and research. Participants agreed that innovation should be seen as central to the research and teaching mission of universities. In many of the institutions represented this has already led to reforms of learning and teaching, with problem-based learning becoming increasingly important. However, several participants pointed to the challenge of combining the logics of open innovation with using patents as indicators for innovation (for instance in funding formula) as well as the rigid systems to evaluate academic performance. Many indicated the need to adapt regulatory frameworks as well as institutional governance and management to face this.
More insights into the role of universities in innovation ecosystems are provided by the EUA commissioned study which will be launched on 8 March at a breakfast event in Brussels. The next opportunity to exchange on the topic and learn about good practices will be the EUA Annual Conference in Paris on 11-12 April (early bird registration deadline: 28 February).