A New University Paradigm / Un nouveau paradigme pour l’Université

Gary Myers, KMbeing

In this guest blog Gary Myers (@KMbeing) advocates for a greater integration of research services, knowledge mobilization and technology transfer. Greater integration from research grant application to research impact is a new university paradigm. This blog was first posted on Gary’s website, www.kmbeing.com, on February 15, 2014 and can be found at http://kmbeing.com/2014/02/15/a-new-university-paradigm/

Dans ce billet, notre blogueur invité Gary Myers (@KMbeing) plaide en faveur d’une meilleure intégration des services à la recherche, de la mobilisation des connaissances et du transfert technologique. Une véritable intégration, depuis la demande de subvention jusqu’à l’impact de la recherche : voilà un nouveau paradigme pour le fonctionnement de l’Université. Ce billet a été publié sur le site Web de Gary Myers, www.kmbeing.com, le 15 février 2014. Vous pouvez le lire à l’adresse suivante : http://kmbeing.com/2014/02/15/a-new-university-paradigm/.

Picture of university buildingUniversities are considered one of our most reliable and cherished knowledge sectors with great expectations of delivering quality education and world-leading research. There has been increased pressure on universities for financial income and resources along with increased pressure from government granting agencies that expect a valuable public and/or private return of investment for providing research funding. With the creation of CIHR in 2000, Canadian health researchers were required to articulate knowledge translation strategies in their grant applications. Some NSERC funding programs require commercialization strategies. In 2011 SSHRC launched its renewed program architecture which requires all grant applications to have a knowledge mobilization strategy. This created an expectation that universities will effectively address social and economic issues and spend their money wisely – along with a mandate from the granting councils to incorporate knowledge mobilization and technology commercialization strategies into research grant applications.

So why aren’t some universities still not doing this?

If universities are to deliver the most promising benefits of knowledge and research for society and meaningfully follow funding guidelines an approach needs to be considered about how research is conducted. This approach needs to include those inside and outside the university who contribute to the research and social/economic innovation process. This is where knowledge mobilization comes in.  Yet many universities still have an unenthusiastic and unresponsive attitude to integrating knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies into the university structure itself.  Many universities still do not have an actual knowledge mobilization unit within their university, or worse have a great misunderstanding of what knowledge mobilization actually is and how to do it successfully – which is also often the reason why they fail to receive funding from granting agencies and continue to struggle financially.

The old university paradigm of receiving funding without a knowledge mobilization strategy is dead.

Universities see themselves to be in a risky situation as a result of economic pressures combined with increasing demand for quality research to provide social benefit.  In a climate of uncertain funding and a greater demand for valuable research, understanding how knowledge mobilization can bring opportunities to improve research, create social and economic innovation and affect government policy needs to be considered. When this is done it leads to important social and economic change.

Community-University partnerships and engagement are not new and have been around for at least a decade. Some examples include CUPP Brighton UK, CUP Alberta, Canadian Social Economy Hub, Emory University Center for Community Partnerships, and Concordia University’s Office of Community Engagement. In an informative journal club post David Phipps also discusses Mobilising knowledge in community-university partnerships.

So some universities get it and are definitely ahead of the game as the public sector benefits from these community-university collaborations.  Yet there are other universities who continue to ignore the broader benefits of such synergies. This is where greater work needs to be done to help the universities who continue to be stuck in old academic-infrastructure paradigms and help sustain community-university partnerships programs that do exist by the institutions themselves.

Developing long-term knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies involves commitment and greater cooperation from all bodies of the university – staff, students, faculty, deans, vice-presidents, and governing councils; and most importantly from the university president.  It’s about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations to provide differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit that includes engagement within and beyond the walls of the university from many directions.

The greater return on investment for social benefit requires a broader approach to have faculty, university research services, knowledge mobilization unit knowledge brokers and university industry liaison offices work together across sectors instead of as separate university contacts and entities. A great start of this integrated approach comes from the University of Alberta which has amalgamated the Industry Liaison Office, the Research Grants Office and components of Research and Trust Accounting into an integrated Research Services Office. U of A thinks “the move to a “one-stop shop” provides researchers with more effective and streamlined services, with enhanced accountability and productivity.” However, a truly integrated approach that maximizes the impact of university research would also include a knowledge mobilization unit.

Canada has ten universities that are part of ResearchImpact – a knowledge mobilization network with further examples of such integrated structures. UQAM engages both research services and technology transfer in their support of knowledge mobilization; Offices of research services at both Wilfrid Laurier University and York University include technology commercialization as well as York’s KMb Unit as research grant support; and University of Victoria combines research partnerships and knowledge mobilization (but this does not include grants).

Another interesting pan university approach to supporting innovation is the appointment of Angus Livingstone and Innovation Catalyst. Formerly head of the UILO, Angus took up this new post in February 2014. It is too early to know what impact this new position will have but one can only hope that it embraces social as well as economic and technology innovation.

A further set-back for Canadian universities is the recent Canadian government announcement in its 2014 budget of a $10-million College Social Innovation Fund connecting colleges with community-based applied research needs of community organizations.  Colleges and polytechnic institutions have traditionally been places for trade learning and apprenticeship. It now looks like they are stepping up into the league of universities to create social and economic innovation. It may be great news for colleges – not so much for universities; especially those who haven’t already started community-university engagement.

This infusion of capital into Canadian colleges for social innovation development has set back any future benefit and funding for Canadian universities who have not yet understood the connection between knowledge mobilization and social innovation, thereby creating a missed opportunity for certain universities to gain the lead on investment in knowledge mobilization and social and economic innovation.

As the saying goes…you snooze, you lose! So is your university a winner or a loser? 

Combining university knowledge mobilization units with university research services and industry liaison offices that engage with both community partnerships and business innovation opportunities all in a “one-stop-shop” can bring great returns on investment – socially and economically – for universities and communities – but some universities are sadly still far behind.

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