| 6 minute read

Six dimensions of readiness: What universities need to engage and collaborate

UIIN

At what point are universities ready to engage with business? How does one gauge universities’ readiness to co-operate in engagement activities and guide it towards success? In this piece, we examine these questions and offer the different dimensions of readiness garnered from the results of a UIIN-led, large-scale research and development project.

To gain a deeper understanding of universities’ abilities to engage with business, extensive research was conducted on what is required to ensure a university is ready to collaborate and engage. From these insights, different tools and frameworks were developed to guide universities’ attempts to collaborate with business. An example of this is the design of the Engagement Readiness Framework, which outlines indicators to measure universities’ engagement readiness. The framework serves as the basis for development of the Engagement Readiness Self-Assessment Tool which evaluates, at an institutional level, how ready a university is to engage with business. The results of this self-assessment signify areas of improvement for the university in their collaboration practices across the following six dimensions.

1. Internal awareness / knowledge of external engagement

This dimension refers to awareness and knowledge of an institution’s academic and professional staff with regards to the resources and support available at the institution, as well as drivers and barriers affecting external engagement.

Awareness of support mechanisms

If researchers and staff are aware of the current external engagement and collaboration activities taking place at the institution, this may serve as motivation to undertake similar initiatives themselves. Having knowledge of accessible support and resources within the university, such as a partnerships office, also reduces the barrier to entry for academics and staff to take the first steps towards external engagement.

Knowledge of barriers and drivers

Having knowledge of the drivers and barriers of engagement allows university staff to anticipate potential difficulties and focus on driving the collaboration process forward. Awareness of the cultural differences between universities and industry, such as expected timeframes and use of language, is one such important example.

2. Staff capabilities and experience with external engagement

Staff must have the ability to engage, therefore having skills and experience with external engagement activities is paramount. The capability and experience needs include: understanding that universities have an interest in bringing research into practical use; awareness of the importance of collaboration with business for professional and institutional growth; openness to attending events to learn from others and seek potential partners for joint research; and experience working in industry.

Engaging externally

University staff must be aware of the different forms of engagement activities in research and education. The extent to which staff have experience in engagement and collaboration extends to many activities, including joint R&D, contract research, commercialisation, and curriculum co-design and co-delivery.

Taking advantage of support mechanisms

University staff should be able to identify and utilise engagement support structures provided by the institution and be aware of engagement barriers and drivers. Mapping the university’s internal research and educational assets is also a valuable skill.

Working with ‘the other side’

Academics who are ready to co-operate can unite institutional cultures, speaking both ‘academic’ and ‘business’ languages. Academics with fluid careers that span both academia and industry are more likely to collaborate. Similarly, university staff exchanges in which staff work at a business, ensure real experience is obtained which they can integrate into their educational activities. These exchanges are key for engagement readiness because they allow relationship building with industry representatives. It is also important to consider the role of the institution, as a whole, to prepare itself for engagement.

3. Awareness and knowledge of external stakeholders

An institution should be aware of its external stakeholders and should cultivate specific capabilities that are focused on identifying, engaging and managing relationships with them. A university must be able to map external stakeholders and identify potential collaboration partners. Furthermore, management processes should be established at an institutional level to maintain relationships.

4. External engagement culture and attitude to external engagement

Transitioning towards collaborative environments requires a well-developed collaborative culture both institution-wide and on the individual level.

Institutional culture and attitude

The external engagement culture and attitude towards external engagement refers to characteristics within the institution and among academic staff. From the institutional perspective, leadership should have a positive attitude and commitment to engagement and collaboration. This should be supported by an institution-wide, documented vision/mission that values external engagement and collaboration, as well as the presence of role models or ‘champions’ of engagement and collaboration, who can inspire other academics.

Individual attitudes

Similarly, staff at the institution should have a positive attitude towards engagement and should therefore be motivated to undertake these activities.

5. Internal support mechanisms for engagement

There are a variety of different support mechanisms available at an institution for external engagement, ranging from strategies, structures, operational mechanisms and resources.

Strategies

Strategies for external engagement and collaboration need to extend across the institution, and hiring policies should prioritise individuals with knowledge and skills that are relevant to external engagement and collaboration and/or industry experience. Staff should be motivated through human resource policies that incentivise external engagement, for example, workload reduction or official recognition of engagement activities.

Structures

To further enhance readiness at a university, structures dedicated to external engagement should be present. These include incubators and accelerators, a Vice Chancellor position for external engagement, offices dedicated to external collaboration, and joint research institutes. Moreover, communication channels should disseminate successful collaboration projects. Events and training for collaboration can help staff and partners network with one another.

Resources

Dedicated funding and support for external engagement and collaboration are crucial. As such, knowledge/technology/partnership offices can support financing for engagement and collaboration. 

6. External conditions affecting engagement

The final dimension considers the external conditions relevant to engagement. Important factors include the ability to shape the university’s ecosystem, and awareness of external support mechanisms.

Awareness of opportunities in the ecosystem

The university should be well aware of the socioeconomic context of the local environment and innovation policies and funding mechanisms, as well as its own ability to shape its local and regional innovation environment.

Taking advantage of these opportunities

External support mechanisms are available that can support university engagement and should be taken advantage of. These include funding, as well as regional and national policies.

It important to note that all these dimensions are present to different extents within an institution. The Engagement Readiness Self-Assessment is valuable in identifying areas of improvement and serves as a conversation-starter for institutional change.

This article originally appeared in the December 2022 special issue of the UIIN magazine CONNECTED as part of the final output of the Erasmus+ funded Engagement Readiness Monitor Project that developed a toolkit in order to measure and advance engagement between universities and business.


Catherine Hayward (author) worked as a Project Officer at UIIN. Her work focused on research and development within the topics of entrepreneurial education and valorisation in higher education.

Go to overview