Varieties of the third mission: mechanisms and institutions of university-society relationship in different disciplines

The latter part of the 20th century witnessed transformation in the ways of understanding the relationship between science, universities and society. Although various models and characterizations of these changes have been presented, there are relatively few studies on the direct interaction between university researchers and other societal stakeholders outside the realm of technology transfer and commercialization of research results.

The inclusion of the third mission of the university into the university law in many countries made the societal impact of university research and “the third mission activities” an object of evaluation and control by creating systems of indicators. The present study expands this perspective by exploring the various forms of interaction between university research groups and other societal actors (experts, users) in different fields of research. Since biosciences and different areas of technology have dominated the accounts of the university-society interaction, the present project aims at studying multidisciplinary research groups and units coming from social sciences, education, humanities and medicine. At present, the following fields of research are being investigated:

  1. urban studies,
  2. Finno-Ugric and Baltic-Finnish languages and
  3. learning difficulties.

The study will uncover the variety of mechanisms and institutions of university-society interaction. It will also explore the ways in which societal and epistemic goals are being intertwined in research work by the studied research groups and units, and the different ways in which the collaborating partners learn from one another. The study will contribute to the discussion on the democracy of science and deepen the understanding of “the third mission activities” of universities as well as the societal impact of university research.

In 2011-15, the project is funded by the University of Helsinki and the Network for Higher Education and Innovation Research (HEINE).

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