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Sirine Haj Taieb Doctoral School of Regional Policy and Economics, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary

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Abstract

In recent years, policymakers and academics have shown interest in understanding how universities could drive regional innovation. Universities are not solely focusing on research and education as their primary missions but are also asked to participate in the development of their regions. This has compelled universities to forge what is called a third mission, encompassing all social and economic activities of universities. Several attempts have been made to evaluate this concept, aiming to highlight the evolving role of universities and their relevance to policy and society. In this vein, this paper showcases existing attempts that aim to measure the impact of the third mission in European universities. This study consists of a systematic literature review studying journal articles published between 2001 and 2021. The purpose of this paper is to enumerate the existing measurements of the third mission and identify the different tensions related to it. This study shows that the literature encompasses three approaches for assessing the third mission. First, some studies incorporated the third mission into the overall evaluation of university performance. Second, other investigations aimed to capture this concept as a whole. Finally, several studies evaluated individual dimensions of the third mission independently.

Abstract

In recent years, policymakers and academics have shown interest in understanding how universities could drive regional innovation. Universities are not solely focusing on research and education as their primary missions but are also asked to participate in the development of their regions. This has compelled universities to forge what is called a third mission, encompassing all social and economic activities of universities. Several attempts have been made to evaluate this concept, aiming to highlight the evolving role of universities and their relevance to policy and society. In this vein, this paper showcases existing attempts that aim to measure the impact of the third mission in European universities. This study consists of a systematic literature review studying journal articles published between 2001 and 2021. The purpose of this paper is to enumerate the existing measurements of the third mission and identify the different tensions related to it. This study shows that the literature encompasses three approaches for assessing the third mission. First, some studies incorporated the third mission into the overall evaluation of university performance. Second, other investigations aimed to capture this concept as a whole. Finally, several studies evaluated individual dimensions of the third mission independently.

1 Introduction

Higher education is recognized as a key force for modernization and development (Teferra – Altbachl 2004). Since the 1990s, with the emergence of the new knowledge economy and the Bologna Process initiative, higher education has witnessed transformative reforms aimed at making European universities more harmonized and cohesive while also enhancing their research and learning quality (Nicolò et al. 2021; Wächter 2004). Starting in the 2000s, policymakers and academics have shown interest in how universities could drive regional innovation (Benneworth et al. 2015). As a result of multiple waves of transformation, universities have shifted from being institutions that create and disseminate knowledge to becoming innovation-driven entities that focus on entrepreneurship, collaboration, sustainability, and social engagement (Cai – Ahmad 2021; Frondizi et al. 2019). With the development of the knowledge economy, the entrepreneurial university model arose, and consequently, the third mission concept flourished and became an inevitable aspect of higher education (Gaisch et al. 2019).

Universities generate broad economic benefits while engaging in economic and regional development. An engaged university's primary mission is to augment human capital. It also participates in producing knowledge and fostering innovation through research and the transfer and commercialization of knowledge. Additionally, universities provide business assistance while collaborating with industry, for instance by establishing science parks and supporting incubators. Universities are also actively involved in their communities by participating in local development projects and policy development (Breznitz – Feldman 2012). As many scholars have pointed out the importance of engaging universities in contributing to the well-being and development of their regional communities, new concepts have emerged, such as the “civic university”, placing the university at the heart of civil society (Goddard et al. 2013), and the “regionally engaged university” as a source of knowledge generation and dissemination in a regional innovation system (Goddard – Vallance 2011). Both concepts are introduced to highlight the role that universities play in regional development.

Breznitz and Feldman (2012) also argue that universities on their own cannot bring about economic changes. Many socioeconomic conditions, such as the region's ability to absorb knowledge, the presence of other universities in the same region, employment opportunities, government support, culture, and history, significantly influence the region's ability to grow. This is in line with the fundamental principles of the Triple Helix theory, which is derived from an analysis of the government's relationship with industry and higher education. The Triple Helix theory assumes that the university, industry, and government are in an intertwined relationship, where each entity seeks to improve the performance of the others to foster innovation in a knowledge-based society (Etzkowitz 2008: 8). The term later expanded to include a fourth helix, civil society. The Quadruple Helix theory was first introduced by Carayannis and Campbell (2010). Subsequently, the Quintuple Helix theory was presented as an extension of the Triple Helix and the Quadruple Helix, conceptualizing a fifth helix, the environment or natural environments. The integration aims to incorporate environmental sustainability into the innovation process and promote sustainable development (Carayannis – Campbell 2010). Other concepts that have emerged in connection with sustainability includes university social responsibility and the sustainable university model, emphasizing the broader social, economic, and environmental responsibilities of universities. These models advocate for universities to actively contribute to societal well-being and social development, promoting sustainable development (Van Weenen 2000; Giuffré – Ratto 2014).

The Triple Helix theory implies the university's shift from its traditional role to an entrepreneurial role in the core of knowledge capitalization (D'este – Perkmann 2011; Fuller et al. 2019). “The entrepreneurial university integrates economic development into the university as an academic function along with teaching and research.” (Etzkowitz 1998: 833). Clark (1998) was the first to acknowledge the term entrepreneurial/enterprising university. According to Clark (1998), the transformation of universities arises from collective entrepreneurial action, which is based on five elements: a strengthened steering core that accommodates managerial values with academic values, an expanded developmental periphery where entrepreneurial universities constantly interact with external entities to stimulate knowledge transfer, industry-university partnerships, and continuing education, a diversified funding base to widen its portfolio and ensure maneuverability in its operations, a stimulated academic heartland that promotes change and innovation, and an integrated entrepreneurial culture that encompasses a set of transformative beliefs and values.

Kosztyán et al. (2021) argue that a valid assessment of the universities' performance is important not only for the university itself but also for its various stakeholders, including government, industry, funding agencies, and community in general. Additionally, considering the significant impact of contextual parameters, adopting strategies that have worked in specific universities in different settings could lead to unintended results (Odei – Anderson 2021). In this respect, European scholars have made attempts to establish an evaluation of the third mission that goes beyond the highly influential contextual settings (Secundo et al. 2017; Benneworth – Fitjar 2019).

Before delving further into this topic, it is important to address the meaning of measurement. Mari (2013) defines measurement as an evaluation process capable of producing information used to form a global understanding of a certain measurand. It is also referred to as a multi-faceted activity that aims to acquire and formally express information about the world (Mari 2013). In this context, measuring the third mission refers to the evaluation of the engagement and outreach activities undertaken by universities. The third mission includes activities beyond traditional teaching and research missions, shedding light on the university's role in serving society. Nowadays, universities are increasingly being called upon to contribute to economic development, innovation, and social well-being. The measurement of the third mission is important because it addresses the evolving role of universities and helps assess the effectiveness and impact of their activities, which are critical to demonstrate their value and relevance to society, policymakers, and governments. Measuring the third mission can provide insights into how universities can set their efforts in line with societal needs and policy goals, thus improving their contributions to the broader community.

Secundo et al. (2019) argue that there is a significant number of publications by scholars that focus on Europe. Although there is a widespread recognition across Europe that the third mission is increasingly important, research regarding how to measure it and what this novel concept encompasses is still in an early stage (Benneworth et al. 2015). In this light, several European research projects were created to identify and measure the third mission activities undertaken by European universities (Frondizi et al. 2019). These include the European Commission's “Metrics for Knowledge Transfer from Public Research Organizations in Europe” (European Commission 2009), the “European indicators and ranking methodology for university third mission” (Soeiro – Montesinos 2011), and the “RUNIN – The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development” project (RUNIN 2021). These major initiatives have significantly influenced the third mission literature in Europe, emphasizing the importance of measuring and monitoring performance (Mariani et al. 2018). Other than that, several EU policies and initiatives have been designed to engage universities in innovation-related activities. According to the Research and Innovation Strategy 2020–2024 published by the European Commission, innovation and research are at the forefront of Europe's priorities. Several framework programs have been developed to foster innovation and promote knowledge transfer and dissemination, including the Horizon Europe program, which is the EU's flagship research and innovation program for the years 2021–2027 and its predecessor Europe 2020. Other initiatives include the European Research Area (ERA) promoting open research and knowledge circulation in Europe, and Smart Specialisation Strategies, mobilizing entrepreneurial discovery (European Commission 2023).

Based on the current research trend, it appears that focusing on Europe might yield more rewarding results than concentrating on specific parts of it. First, given the nature of measuring a concept like the third mission, comparing findings from different contexts can contribute to a broader and more objective understanding of the status quo. Second, many European research initiatives aim to compare higher education systems and policies across different European countries. In such cases, a multi-country or regional approach is deemed more appropriate.

The aim of this paper is to have an extensive examination of existing studies that have attempted to measure the third mission, with a specific focus on European universities. To achieve this, we will undertake a systematic literature review (SLR) that concentrates on how the third mission of European universities has been measured. While several SLRs have explored the role of universities in regional development, often focusing on specific aspects of the third mission, such as the university-industry collaboration (Ankrah – Omar 2015), research performance (Hermanu et al. 2022), entrepreneurship (Sandoval Hamón et al. 2022; Galvão et al. 2018), this paper addresses an unprecedented gap and aims to provide a comprehensive investigation into the measurement of the third mission of universities in Europe. The remainder of our paper will unfold as follows: in the following section, we present our methodological positioning and research protocol. Following this, we discuss the main results of the descriptive and thematic analyses. Finally, we conclude with summarizing our findings.

2 Methodology and research protocol

We applied the process devised by Compagnucci and Spigarelli (2020) consisting of six stages.

  • Step 1. Formulate research questions and research queries: We identified the following research questions: (i) How to measure the third mission activities undertaken by European universities? (ii) What are the tensions related to the third mission implementation? We created six queries: universities and knowledge economy, universities' ranking and evaluation, third mission and regional development, third mission and social engagement, third mission goals, and measurement of the third mission of universities.

  • Step 2. Inclusion and exclusion criteria selection: To define our research scope, we selected the following inclusion criteria: universities, third mission, measuring the third mission, and developed countries. Our research was limited to journal articles written in English, published between 2001 and 2021. When searching for journals, we focused on categories such as business, management, education, educational research, economics, and education scientific disciplines.

  • Step 3. Database search: We used Scopus (Elsevier), Web of Science (Clarivate Analytics), and ScienceDirect (Elsevier) for database searches. Secundo et al. (2019) and Compagnucci and Spigarelli (2020) recommended Web of Science and Scopus as suitable databases for the subject at hand. ScienceDirect served as a complementary database. We handpicked additional articles that were mentioned frequently in leading journals. Using our research queries, we identified 1,253 articles, removed duplicates using the Zotero software, and added four articles deemed highly relevant. After the initial scan, we identified 55 highly relevant papers. Upon removing the duplicates, we assessed the remaining 994 papers, based on title, abstract, and keywords, categorizing them as “Not relevant”, “Might be relevant”, and “Highly relevant”. We excluded the “Not relevant” list and re-evaluated the “Might be relevant” list, adding six additional papers based on the authors' search method.

  • Step 4. Articles download and data extraction: Upon gathering the most relevant articles, we downloaded them and employed the tabulation technique by Vick and Robertson (2018). This involved extracting title, journal, publication year, keywords, abstract, methodology, location, sample, paradigm, and main findings. After a thorough analysis, we were able to exclude 10 additional articles, resulting in a final sample of 51 articles. Figure 1 illustrates our research protocol using the PRISMA flow diagram.

  • Step 5. Descriptive analysis: We described our sample using year of publication, journals names, and keywords.

  • Step 6. Thematic analysis: Based on the findings, we gather a list of attempts to measure the third mission of universities and a typology of tensions negatively affecting the third mission.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Research Protocol

Source: adapted from Moher et al. (2009).

Citation: Society and Economy 2024; 10.1556/204.2023.00030

3 Results

The descriptive analysis reveals the scientific activity associated with the third mission trend between 2001 and 2021, highlighting the prominent journals that addressed the topic, and identifying the keywords frequently employed in the sampled literature. In the thematic analysis, we explore the evolving role of universities, the emergence of the third mission, and provide an overview of the European research projects and ranking methodologies. Additionally, we navigate the measurements of the third mission in the literature examining different related tensions.

3.1 Descriptive analysis

We have selected the period from 2001 to 2021, using the number of publications as an indicator of scientific activity. Our analysis suggests that the interest in the impact of the third mission began to grow shortly before 2008. Furthermore, we observe a consistent increase in the number of publications related to the measurement of the third mission, confirming the growing interest in this topic (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

Publication trend from 2008 to 2021

Source: author.

Citation: Society and Economy 2024; 10.1556/204.2023.00030

The top five journals mentioned in this sample are: Sustainability (4), Science and Public Policy (4), Studies in Higher Education (3), Technological Forecasting & Social Change (3), and the European Journal of Education (2). The main keywords frequently mentioned are higher education, innovation, universities, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, third mission, and knowledge transfer.

3.2 Thematic analysis

Various factors have played a pivotal role in influencing the development of universities, leading to their irreversible transformation into engines of technological advancement and innovation. Around the 1980s, a new dimension emerged when universities began recognizing the importance of a knowledge-driven economy and embraced a more open stance toward their local communities (Montesinos et al. 2008; Vorley – Nelles 2009). Beyond their traditional roles in research and education, universities adopted a third mission that helps in supporting local actors and providing employment and income (Kapetaniou – Lee 2017; Terán-Bustamante et al. 2021).

Bengoa et al. (2021: 1531) refer to the third mission as “the engagement of universities with their socioeconomic context”. Adamakou et al. (2021) characterize it as the promotion of regional targets by universities. Nevertheless, the term “Third Mission” remains inherently ambiguous and susceptible to various interpretations (Pinheiro et al. 2015; Compagnucci – Spigarelli 2020). Montesinos et al. (2008: 261) describe it “a controversial concept under scrutiny”. The third mission of universities is “related to the generation, use, application, and exploitation of knowledge with external stakeholders and society in general” (Secundo et al. 2017: 229). Trencher et al. (2014) and Secundo et al. (2017) argue that missions should not be viewed in isolation as all missions are complementary and indispensable to reason the existence of universities.

3.3 Third mission dimensions

Although there is no widely accepted definition of the third mission, Mariani et al. (2018: 203) have identified its constituents as “continuing education, innovation promotion, technology transfer, academic entrepreneurship, and social engagement towards local communities”. Another widely accepted perspective is provided by De la Torre et al. (2018) and Secundo et al. (2017), stating three goals of the third mission: continuing education (integrating entrepreneurship into the curriculum and talent attraction and development), technology transfer and innovation (including the management of intellectual property, spin-offs, and R&D development), and social engagement (spanning regional, national, and international contexts).

3.4 International and national ranking systems: importance and limitations

As universities played an increasingly significant role in economic development, rising demands for the development of rankings emerged. These rankings aim to ensure accountability, provide information to external parties on university performance, and enable universities to track their progress and align their activities with their goals (De la Torre et al. 2018; Lazic, et al. 2021).

Kapetaniou and Lee (2017) argue that certain ranking systems, notably the QS World University Rankings (QS) and the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking, focus mainly on the first and second missions, explicitly neglecting the third mission. De la Torre (2018) confirms that rankings are restrictive when used as evaluation tools. Kosztyán et al. (2021) further highlight issues with global ranking systems and identified several problems, such as the oversight of interactions between universities and the absence of a size effect in indicator-based methods. Despite the need for assessments to convey an inclusive view of universities' performance (Kapetaniou – Lee 2017), most world rankings primarily measure academic performance. Additionally, innovative rankings lack available statistical indicators (Mikhaylovich et al. 2017). Frondizi et al. (2019) argue that the presence of the third mission in international rankings is negligible, making these systems unfit for evaluating the third mission of universities. In response to these limitations, the U-Multirank (UMR) was developed to integrate the third mission of universities into international rankings (Kosztyán et al. 2021) (Table 1).

Table 1.

Overview of the existing indicators in the literature

Ranking/IndicatorUMRQSWUR*ARWU**CWTS Leiden Ranking
Teaching Performancexxxx
Internationalizationxxx
Research Performancexxxxx
Knowledge Transferxx
Regional Engagementx

* World University Ranking, ** Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Source: based on Mikhaylovich et al. (2017) and Lazic et al. (2021).

Recognizing the scant scope of existing international rankings, several European research projects have been developed to address the measurement of the third mission activities (Frondizi et al. 2019). These major initiatives have played a pivotal role in shaping the third mission literature in Europe, highlighting the importance of measuring and monitoring performance (Mariani et al. 2018). The literature's concerns regarding the implementation of the third mission activities in European universities have prompted policymakers to design appropriate indicators and measurements. Both the European Union and the European Commission are actively involved in the development of ranking methods for universities (Daraio et al. 2011).

3.5 Third mission measurement

At large, metrics are usually used to measure the impact of certain activities and compare them against previously identified goals and missions (Karanikić – Bezić 2021). De la Torre et al. (2018) emphasize the importance of considering the third mission of universities when measuring their performance, given its significant role in impact assessment, especially in the development of suitable policies and institutional strategies. The literature outlines three pathways to measure the third mission: integrating the third mission in the university's overall performance evaluation, measuring the third mission as a whole, and measuring each dimension of the third mission separately.

3.5.1 Measuring university performance

Amidst increasing demands to investigate the third mission of universities and recognizing the lack of credible and efficient metrics, the literature has identified several indicators of performance (Hazelkorn 2014). Kosztyán et al. (2021) attempted to assess universities' performance from the perspective of embeddedness in mobility and collaboration networks. Both embeddedness in Erasmus mobility networks and the CORDIS-FP7 (seventh Framework Programme of the EU) network are associated to the third mission of universities. A highly engaged university interacts, cooperates, and shares knowledge with its stakeholders, showing strong embeddedness.

On a different note, De Matos Pedro et al. (2020), integrated Quality of life (QoL) into performance measurement by evaluating the academic life of students and the work life of university staff. Employing the intellectual capital framework to measure university performance, De Matos Pedro et al. (2020) highlighted QoL as a prominent dimension, especially in terms of the quality of academic life. Notably, the use of intellectual capital has taken place intermittently in the context of European higher education (De Matos Pedro et al. 2020). For example, Nicolò et al. (2021: 4) argue that university performance can be evaluated by assessing intellectual capital components related to three missions: “(1) the ability to produce and transmit knowledge to students; (2) the capability to apply knowledge to perform research; (3) the capability to promote social engagement and develop technology transfer and innovation activities”.

Ferro and D'Elia (2020) proposed to measure university performance through assessing university outputs. The authors classified these outputs into teaching, research, and extension activities. The latter dimension encapsulates all activities produced by the university with the intention of transmitting them to external parties. Kotosz et al. (2015) aimed to develop a methodology for measuring the university's economic impact. They considered the education and research missions as well as the third mission from a knowledge transfer perspective. Based on the literature, the authors developed a set of indicators for six third mission activities: “technology transfer, counselling, spin-offs and start-ups, university-industry-government relations, commercialization and utilization of university property, and the enhancement of the social engagement of the university.” (Kotosz et al. 2015: 15).

Benito and Romera (2011) tried to evaluate university performance through two perspectives: academic profile and institutional sustainability. The academic profile is composed of four indicators: the percentage of international students, the percentage of academic staff with a doctorate, the percentage of graduate studies, and the percentage of graduate students. The institutional sustainability is evaluated based on the amount of funding from third-parties, costs of employers, and ratios of funding per undergraduate student and funding per student.

3.5.2 Measuring the third mission

As mentioned above, numerous attempts have focused on measuring and evaluating third mission activities in higher education. Given the increasing demand for universities to be more transparent, measuring the third mission has become imperative (Compagnucci – Spigarelli 2020).

In a recent study, Odei and Anderson (2021: 126) used various courses of action taken by universities in the United Kingdom to contribute to social development as a proxy for the third mission. These actions included support for graduates, attracting inward investments, attracting non-local students, promoting university research and development collaborations, and facilitating networks.

Beyond its role as a performance measurement tool, intellectual capital serves as an assessment tool for the third mission (Frondizi et al. 2019). Scholars have conducted research on the third mission using intellectual capital. Secundo et al. (2017) and Compagnucci and Spigarelli (2020) argue that each third mission goal is connected to an element of intellectual capital: human capital as opposed to continuing education, structural capital in contrast with technology transfer and innovation, and relational capital compared with social engagement. Secundo et al. (2017) developed a measurement system for the third mission from an intellectual capital perspective in which they identified three sets of indicators. Each set reflects one of the intellectual capital components. The measurement system includes 40 indicators: 16 for human capital, 11 for organizational capital, and 13 for social capital. Although the concept of intellectual capital is not new, its application in higher education have gained prominence only in the last decade (Mariani et al. 2018). A number of studies incorporating the intellectual capital model in higher education have been developed (Mariani et al. 2018; Secundo et al. 2017; De Matos Pedro et al. 2020; Nicolò et al. 2021). Another pioneer study on measuring the third mission was conducted in Italy, leading to the creation of a handbook for its evaluation, which includes research-enhancing activities such as patents, spin-offs, contracts with third parties and conventions, and intermediaries. It also includes activities that contribute to social welfare, such as public engagement, cultural assets, continuous education, and clinical experiments (Frondizi et al. 2019).

To better understand the notion of the third mission, Vorley and Nelles (2009) applied the entrepreneurial architecture model, which comprises five elements: structures (technology transfer offices, incubators, and technology parks), systems (networks of communication and coordination, and degrees of organizational embeddedness), strategies (corporate plans and third mission goals), leadership (shared strategies), and culture (attitudes of individuals within the organization). Compagnucci and Spigarelli (2020) also highlighted the importance of entrepreneurial architecture in comprehending the third mission.

Schmid et al. (2018: 114) used the term “economic development mission” as a synonym for the third mission and included the following activities: “patenting activity, pro-active intellectual property management, technology transfer, partnerships with firms, start-up, and spin-off companies, infrastructure and support for innovation, and regional boundary-spanning functions”.

Another spearhead study by Montesinos et al. (2008: 262) aimed to identify three dimensions of the third mission considered when ranking its development: a social approach including “non-academic dissemination, media communication, volunteer contributions to the community, social networking, or contributions to public policy”, an entrepreneur focus on generating funding sources; and an innovative approximation encompassing “searching for venture capital, business networking, consulting for governments, joint ventures with industrial sectors, conferences for research, or regional innovation and networking with entrepreneurs”.

3.5.3 Measuring third mission dimensions

We have identified four research areas based on the existing literature: knowledge and technology transfer, university-industry collaboration, research performance, and university-community partnerships.

There is a growing emphasis on the knowledge transfer process, with specific tools designed to capture the university performance in technology transfer and knowledge transfer in general (Rossi – Rosli 2015). Feola et al. (2021) developed the Entrepreneurial Attitude Index to measure the extent to which universities excel in technology transfer. The index is composed of input factors (related to the entrepreneurial culture, structures, and strategies of the university) and output factors (reflecting the outcomes of third mission activities). Another well-recognized initiative in measuring knowledge transfer is by Karanikić and Bezić (2021: 196), in which they identified seven broad knowledge transfer indicators: “research agreements, invention disclosures, patent applications, patent grants, licenses executed, license income earned, and spin-off established”. Pickernell et al. (2019: 3434) explored knowledge exchange processes linked to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They identified eight knowledge exchange income variables: “income from continuous professional development with SMEs, shares sold in spinouts, software license income from SMEs, non-software license income with SMEs, consultancy with SMEs, other intellectual property income with SMEs, contract research with SMEs, and facilities and equipment-related services with SMEs”. Rossi and Rosli (2015: 1978) view that knowledge transfer engagement profiles are measured by the intensity of engagement in the institutions, including variables such as the number of research contracts, consultancy contracts, facilities and equipment-related services, learner days of professional development courses provided, disclosures, licenses, spinoffs, academic staff days of public events performed”.

The strong relationship of universities with their stakeholders is considered one of the key success factors. Adamakou et al. (2021: 3) identified three main types of stakeholders: “representatives of the university, the local and regional authorities and civil society, and the business sector”. Audretsch and Elitski (2021: 981) distinguished another typology: “general (students, faculty, administration, and individual entrepreneurs), specialized (technology transfer offices, patent offices, incubators, and science parks), and systemic (government and industry)”.

Notions such as public engagement and community engagement are sometimes employed interchangeably with the third mission, while other sources consider public engagement as a sub-part of the third mission (Vargiu 2014). In this paper, we consider community engagement as a distinct component of the third mission. Plummer et al. (2021) used the HEI-Community Partnership Performance Index, which is an effective measure that assesses specific university–community partnerships. It is divided into three categories: inputs to the partnership including “financial resources, human resources, motivation for partnership, and transparency”, the process such as “shared decision-making, communication, trust, mutual respect, and adaptability”, and outcomes like “objective outcomes, subjective outcomes, and learning outcomes” (Plummer et al. 2021, p. 541). Based on a wide literature, Vargiu (2014: 562) grouped public engagement indicators within six areas: “(A) Mission, governance, and overarching institutionalized strategies for public engagement (B) Research (C) Student engagement and educational outreach (D) Dissemination (E) Accessibility and use of facilities (F) Community partnerships, stakeholders' relations, and participation in external activities”.

Universities play a central role in supplying firms with necessary academic knowledge, skills, and expertise, leading to an increased focus on industry-university collaboration in management practices and research (Rybnicek – Königsgruber 2019). Kotiranta et al. (2020: 6) identified three types of collaborations: Educational interaction (conferences and seminars, corporate training/lecturing to companies, thesis supervision), research interaction (joint publication, research-related consulting, public research programs), and integrated interaction (common research or other facilities, employment).

On the other hand, Vick and Robertson (2018) identified four major characteristics of industry-university collaboration for knowledge transfer: motivations (competition for professional status, reputational/career rewards, and financial rewards), activities (knowledge transfer, research, collaboration), barriers (institutional such as the absence of rewards and incentives, and individual such as the lack of time and incentives), and outcomes (institutional, economic, and social).

Frenken et al. (2017) identified indicators to measure university research performance: “the number of highly cited publications, international co-publications, and university-industry co-publications”. These three indicators reflect research excellence, internationalisation, and innovation, respectively.

3.6 Third mission tensions

With the development of the third mission, many tensions appeared to the surface.

3.6.1 Tensions related to the availability of data

According to Adamakou et al. (2021: 3), the available data about universities' contributions are limited, so scholars are propelled to conduct research with a narrow-focused approach. In the selected literature, the third mission is evaluated mainly from the knowledge transfer perspective since the outputs of the third mission are rather unknown (Rodríguez-Castro – Aparicio 2021). When measuring the third mission, despite its numerous outputs, the sole indicator used is the revenue coming from the knowledge transfer activities. This is because there is no consent regarding the outputs of the third mission (De la Torre et al. 2018), and a lack of data (Rodríguez-Castro – Aparicio 2021). De la Torre et al. (2018) highlighted the need for broad and integrated databases on the third mission to grasp a full comprehension of the third mission and explore its contribution to society and the economy.

3.6.2 Tensions related to quality assessment

One of the main tensions is related to the evaluation and assessment of the development activities (Rantala – Ukko 2019). Attempting to measure third mission activities is difficult and still not conceivable (Vargiu 2014). Using solely quantitative indicators is not enough to grasp the full picture. Therefore, qualitative data should also be collected (Karanikić – Bezić 2021). In assessments, it is recommended to use subjective elements to see personal experiences of the main parties (Kapetaniou – Lee 2017). Other than that, one of the most recognized tensions regarding the third mission and higher education is the approach of the ‘one-size-fits-all-model’ that does not take into consideration the different university systems and unique regional characteristics (Pinheiro et al. 2016; De la Torre et al. 2018). Kapetaniou and Lee (2017) raised this question earlier and argued that each university operates with a specific national and institutional context that influences the third mission. Kapetaniou and Lee (2017) found that universities in different countries do not conduct their work in the same way and do not have the same structures and strategies. Thus, their third mission should not be conceived in the same way.

In addition, hardly any theoretical research has been conducted to measure knowledge transfer activities as it is difficult to capture it whether quantitatively or qualitatively. To harmonize knowledge transfer performance indicators, researchers highly recommended to adopt a common definition for each indicator (Karanikić – Bezić 2021). Frondizi et al. (2019) mentioned also the hurdles related to defining the indicators as in some cases, the required data are unquantifiable, informal, and sometimes absent within university units.

Roos and Guenther (2020) argue that despite numerous studies on the third mission, universities lack a commonly agreed method for assessing engagement. The measurement systems discussed in the literature remain overly fragmented and are challenging to apply in different contexts. Frondizi et al. (2019) stated that there is no consentaneous set of indicators of third mission activities. While international rankings often perceive third mission activities as a marginal or non-existent aspect of higher education, and European research projects have not yet provided a comprehensive manual for evaluating the third mission, the concept of intellectual capital emerges as a possible solution for measuring the third mission (Frondizi et al. 2019).

3.6.3 Tensions related to policies and centralization

Although universities are place-specific institutions as characterized by Benneworth et al. (2017), and are in direct interaction with their regions, central government policies often overlook this aspect, placing universities with regional focus at the bottom. As their mission is perceived as less prestigious than missions of excellence and internationalization, regionally engaged universities find it hard to surpass more established institutions. Consequently, regional universities are framed to remain in the shadow despite their efforts to reach excellence (Benneworth et al. 2017). This concern was also raised earlier by Pinheiro et al. (2015), highlighting that centralized funding regimes tend to prioritize research-driven universities over regionally engaged ones. Subsequently, the third mission might be considered as a peripheral mission, so it is unlikely to become a focal point in higher education (Benneworth et al. 2015), it also risks being overshadowed by the novel expanded mission of sustainability.

4 Discussion

As interest in the third mission of universities and its impact grew, numerous concepts, models, and indicators were introduced in relation to the third mission, with some regarded as independent while others are intertwined with it. Based on the selected 55 journal papers published between 2001 and 2021, we were able to confirm that the interest in the third mission began to gain prominence in the early 21st century, as the focus on the socio-economic role of universities expanded beyond the traditional mission of teaching and research.

The expanding role of universities in social and economic development has spurred increased demands for the creation of ranking systems, which aim to achieve accountability, performance measurement, and goal alignment. However, most of these ranking systems either do not cover the third mission measurements or have incomplete data making them less reliable as seen in the case of the U-Multirank ranking system (Prado 2021).

This study discussed three approaches to evaluate the third mission: evaluating it as a component of the university's overall performance, appraising the third mission on its own, and evaluating single dimensions of the third mission independently. For the last approach, we have identified four research areas by examining the existing literature: knowledge and technology transfer, university-industry collaboration, research performance, and university-community partnerships.

Existing literature has highlighted a variety of indicators employed to assess university performance, such as embeddedness in mobility and collaboration networks by Kosztyán et al. (2021). The authors argue that a highly engaged university fosters cooperation, shares knowledge, and actively involves itself with its stakeholders, demonstrating a robust level of embeddedness. Adamakou et al. (2021) identified three types of stakeholders: university representatives, local and regional government bodies and civil society, and the business sector. Drawing from an extensive body of literature, Vargiu (2014) categorized public engagement indicators into six distinct areas, including the extent to which universities reflect on public engagement in their missions and strategies, their research, student engagement, knowledge dissemination, facilities, and partnerships with external parties. Plummer et al. (2021) employed the HEI-community partnership performance index, a metric divided into three main categories: inputs to the partnership, process, and outcomes. Earlier, Kotiranta et al. (2020) distinguished three types of university collaborations: educational interaction, research interaction, and integrated interaction. In addition, Ferro and D'Elia (2020) suggested a method for assessing university performance through the lens of university outputs: teaching, research, and extension activities, a concept that we regard as synonymous with the third mission. University research performance was also assessed by Frenken et al. (2017) through the use of different indicators related to publications and university-industry research cooperations. Meanwhile, Benito and Romera (2011) sought to assess university performance through two distinct perspectives: academic profile and institutional sustainability.

Other scholars utilized multiple indicators to evaluate the third mission in an attempt to grasp this broad concept, as seen in the case of Odei and Anderson (2021). Montesinos et al. (2008) identified three dimensions of the third mission that can be considered when evaluating its development: a social approach, an entrepreneur focus, and an innovative approximation. Another attempt was made by Frondizi et al. (2019), who developed a handbook for assessing the third mission, encompassing a spectrum of research-enhancing and social welfare-oriented activities.

To better understand the notion of the third mission in higher education contexts, several models have been applied, including the entrepreneurial architecture model by Vorley and Nelles (2009). Subsequently, Schmid et al. (2018: 114) used the concept of economic development mission as a synonym for the third mission, attempting to measure it using patenting, intellectual property, partnerships with firms, start-up, and spin-offs, infrastructure and support for innovation, and regional functions-related indicators.

One of the most prominent aspects of the third mission is technology transfer. In this regard, Feola et al. (2021) introduced the Entrepreneurial Attitude Index to assess the degree to which universities excel in technology transfer. Another method for measuring the third mission was outlined by Karanikić and Bezić (2021), involving seven overarching knowledge transfer indicators. Vick and Robertson (2018) identified four significant characteristics of industry-university collaboration for knowledge transfer: motivations, activities, barriers, and outcomes. On the other hand, Kotosz et al. (2015) employed knowledge transfer to evaluate the university's economic influence. Additionally, Rossi and Rosli (2015) argue that the level of involvement or intensity of engagement within institutions is also considered another measure for knowledge transfer in universities.

In the context of European higher education, the utilization of intellectual capital has occurred intermittently, as noted by De Matos Pedro et al. (2020). Several studies, incorporating the intellectual capital model in higher education, have been developed, including Mariani et al. (2018), Secundo et al. (2017), De Matos Pedro et al. (2020) and Nicolò et al. (2021). Using the intellectual capital framework as a tool to measure university performance, De Matos Pedro et al. (2020) incorporated Quality of life (QoL) into performance measurement. Intellectual capital serves not only as a tool to measure university performance, but also acts as an assessment tool for the third mission (Frondizi et al. 2019). Several scholars have conducted research on the third mission using intellectual capital as a tool, including Secundo et al. (2017) and Compagnucci and Spigarelli (2020), based on the premise that each of the third mission goals is connected to one of the elements of the intellectual capital.

Given the data indicating that the third mission is still in its early stages and lacking a comprehensive measurement and a universally agreed-upon characterization, we recognize the significance of uncovering the underlying tensions associated with this concept. The primary tension pertains to the accessibility and availability of relevant data. While the U-Multirank was a commendable initiative to measure the third mission, it remains incomplete, making it unreliable for research. The second tension revolves around quality assessment, as research on the third mission relying solely on quantitative indicators is insufficient for a full characterization of the concept. Qualitative research proves valuable for a more subjective view, considering different socio-economic contexts and unique university management systems. The last tension relates to policies and centralization, prioritizing research-driven universities over regionally engaged universities. In this case, the third mission may be perceived as a secondary objective, making it less likely to become a central focus in higher education.

5 Conclusions

As the interest in the third mission of universities and its influence grew, research in connection with this topic has increased and a multitude of concepts, models, and indicators have emerged. While several ranking systems have been developed to assess the first and second missions of universities, a comprehensive approach for the measurement of the third mission is still lacking. Consequently, there have been several attempts to appraise the various dimensions of this concept. A meaningful evaluation of the third mission holds significance not only for the institution itself but also for its diverse stakeholders, including government bodies, firms, and regional communities. With the expanding interest in the third mission across Europe, there is a pressing need for a more refined definition of indicators and measurements over time.

This study aimed to provide a comprehensive reference for existing studies regarding the measurement of the third mission of universities in Europe. Our paper sought to uncover the prevailing attempts to measure the third mission of universities, offering a descriptive analysis of the methodologies employed in Europe. To gain a deeper understanding of the ambiguity surrounding third mission measurement, we aimed to identify the various tensions influencing this aspect.

In order to address this research gap, we conducted a systematic literature review, limiting research to English-written journal articles published in business, management, educational research, and economics-related journals between 2001 and 2021. We applied the six-stage process developed by Compagnucci and Spigarelli (2020). We performed searches in three databases and underwent two rounds of papers selection after removing duplicates. Our paper is based on a total of 55 journal articles. In this paper, we tried to address two research questions: (i) How to measure the third mission activities undertaken by European universities? (ii) What are the tensions related to the implementation of the third mission?

We conducted a descriptive analysis of the existing attempts to measure the third mission of universities in Europe. Our study reveals three distinct approaches within the literature for evaluating the third mission. First, certain studies integrated the third mission into the assessment of university performance. Second, other studies assessed the third mission holistically, attempting to capture the different dimensions of this broad concept. Finally, numerous studies independently assessed specific dimensions of the third mission, including technology transfer, university-industry collaboration, research performance, and university-community partnerships.

Despite extensive research efforts, uncertainty persists regarding the measurement of the third mission. Even with the development of several European research projects aimed at understanding the concept of the third mission, a clear methodology for its evaluation remains elusive. The challenge in measurement arises from the scarcity of data on the third mission, a gap evident for both universities and governmental bodies (Daraio et al. 2011; Compagnucci – Spigarelli 2020). Thus, the third mission remains too broadly conceptualized and overly fragmented, with a predominant emphasis on case studies and quantitative research (Rybnicek – Königsgruber 2019; Vorley – Nelles 2009).

In this vein, we tried to identify the different tensions limiting this concept. Three primary tensions were highlighted. First, tensions related to the availability of data. There is a lack of widespread agreement on how to measure the third mission since some outputs of the third mission are rather broad or not yet defined. This directed researchers to narrow-focused research. In this paper, we tried to expand our research scope to include the European context in general. A second tension is related to quality assessment. The concept of a one-size-fits-all model does not account for the variations in university management systems and regional characteristics. The third tension is related to policies and centralization overlooking the third mission and its impact in regional development.

Our paper can serve as a reference for further studies regarding the measurement of the third mission in European countries. In particular, our paper aims to identify effective approaches and highlight prominent studies, helping researchers optimize their academic knowledge. We hope that our paper can be a reference for future studies and can potentially help enrich the theoretical knowledge of a particular scholar.

Despite our efforts, we acknowledge potential oversights due to the limited scope of this study. We tried to gather the most prominent studies around the third mission in the European higher education published in the period 2001–2021. However, it is noteworthy that there are potentially important studies that were not mentioned in this study, as we have limited our research to a specific scope. Furthermore, we might have excluded important research that was published in books or book chapters as we only included journal articles. Another limitation is the choice of the inclusion criteria used to collect the relevant papers in the sample. Nevertheless, we hope that this paper serves as an adequate reference for scholars and helps further exploration and research on the measurement of the third mission.

Acknowledgement

The research was supported by project no. TKP2021-NKTA-19, which has been implemented with the support provided from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary, financed under the TKP2021-NKTA funding scheme.

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  • Vick, T. E.Robertson, M. (2018): A Systematic Literature Review of UK University-Industry Collaboration for Knowledge Transfer: A Future Research Agenda. Science and Public Policy 45(4): 579590. https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scx086.

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  • Vargiu, A. (2014): Indicators for the Evaluation of Public Engagement of Higher Education Institutions. Journal of the Knowledge Economy 5: 562584. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13132-014-0194-7.

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  • Vick, T. E.Robertson, M. (2018): A Systematic Literature Review of UK University-Industry Collaboration for Knowledge Transfer: A Future Research Agenda. Science and Public Policy 45(4): 579590. https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scx086.

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  • Vorley, T.Nelles, J. (2009): Building Entrepreneurial Architectures: A Conceptual Interpretation of the Third Mission. Policy Futures in Education 7(3): 284296. https://doi.org/10.2304/pfie.2009.7.3.284.

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Editor-in-chief: Balázs SZENT-IVÁNYI

Co-Editors:

  • Péter MARTON (Corvinus University, Budapest)
  • István KÓNYA (Corvinus University, Budapest)
  • László SAJTOS (The University of Auckland)
  • Gábor VIRÁG (University of Toronto)

Associate Editors:

  • Tamás BOKOR (Corvinus University, Budapest)
  • Sándor BOZÓKI (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Bronwyn HOWELL (Victoria University of Wellington)
  • Hintea CALIN (Babeş-Bolyai University)
  • Christian EWERHART (University of Zürich)
  • Clemens PUPPE (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)
  • Zsolt DARVAS (Bruegel)
  • Szabina FODOR (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Sándor GALLAI (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • László GULÁCSI (Óbuda University)
  • Dóra GYŐRFFY (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • György HAJNAL (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Krisztina KOLOS (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Alexandra KÖVES (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Lacina LUBOR (Mendel University in Brno)
  • Péter MEDVEGYEV (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Miroslava RAJČÁNIOVÁ (Slovak University of Agriculture)
  • Ariel MITEV (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Éva PERPÉK (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Petrus H. POTGIETER (University of South Africa)
  • Sergei IZMALKOV (MIT Economics)
  • Anita SZŰCS (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • László TRAUTMANN (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Trenton G. SMITH (University of Otago)
  • György WALTER (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Zoltán CSEDŐ (Corvinus University Budapest)
  • Zoltán LŐRINCZI (Ministry of Human Capacities)

Society and Economy
Institute: Corvinus University of Budapest
Address: Fővám tér 8. H-1093 Budapest, Hungary
Phone: (36 1) 482 5406
E-mail: balazs.szentivanyi@uni-corvinus.hu

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2022  
Web of Science  
Total Cites
WoS
not indexed
Journal Impact Factor not indexed
Rank by Impact Factor

not indexed
not indexed

Impact Factor
without
Journal Self Cites
not indexed
5 Year
Impact Factor
not indexed
Journal Citation Indicator not indexed
Rank by Journal Citation Indicator

not indexed
not indexed

Scimago  
Scimago
H-index
15
Scimago
Journal Rank
0.217
Scimago Quartile Score

Business and International Management Q3
Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous) Q3
Industrial Relations Q3
Public Administration Q3
Sociology and Political Science Q3
Strategy and Management Q4

Scopus  
Scopus
Cite Score
1.5
Scopus
Cite Score Rank
Sociology and Political Science 602/1415 (57th PCTL)
General Economics, Econometrics and Finance 131/279 (53rd PCTL)
Industrial Relations 31/57 (46th PCTL)
Public Administration 3126/213 (41th PCTL)
Business and International Management 302/436 (30th PCTL)
Strategy and Management 343/473 (27th PCTL)
Scopus
SNIP
0.468

 

2021  
Web of Science  
Total Cites
WoS
not indexed
Journal Impact Factor not indexed
Rank by Impact Factor

not indexed

Impact Factor
without
Journal Self Cites
not indexed
5 Year
Impact Factor
not indexed
Journal Citation Indicator not indexed
Rank by Journal Citation Indicator

not indexed

Scimago  
Scimago
H-index
13
Scimago
Journal Rank
0,196
Scimago Quartile Score Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous) (Q3)
Industrial Relations (Q3)
Sociology and Political Science (Q3)
Business and International Management (Q4)
Public Administration (Q4)
Strategy and Management (Q4)
Scopus  
Scopus
Cite Score
1,2
Scopus
CIte Score Rank
Sociology and Political Science 626/1345 (Q2)
General Economics, Econometrics and Finance 131/260 (Q3)
Industrial Relations 35/57 (Q3)
Public Administration 120/190 (Q3)
Business and International Management 292/423 (Q3)
Strategy and Management 340/456 (Q3)
Scopus
SNIP
0,270

2020  
Scimago
H-index
11
Scimago
Journal Rank
0,157
Scimago
Quartile Score
Business and International Management Q4
Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous) Q4
Industrial Relations Q4
Public Administration Q4
Sociology and Political Science Q3
Strategy and Management Q4
Scopus
Cite Score
103/117=0,9
Scopus
Cite Score Rank
Business and International Management 305/399 (Q4)
General Economics, Econometrics and Finance 137/243 (Q3)
Industrial Relations 40/54 (Q3)
Public Administration 116/165 (Q3)
Sociology and Political Science 665/1269 (Q3)
Strategy and Management 351/440 (Q4)
Scopus
SNIP
0,171
Scopus
Cites
157
Scopus
Documents
24
Days from submission to acceptance 148
Days from acceptance to publication 50

 

2019  
Scimago
H-index
10
Scimago
Journal Rank
0,228
Scimago
Quartile Score
Business and International Management Q3
Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous) Q3
Industrial Relations Q3
Public Administration Q3
Sociology and Political Science Q3
Strategy and Management Q3
Scopus
Cite Score
87/110=0,8
Scopus
Cite Score Rank
Business and International Management 286/394 (Q3)
General Economics, Econometrics and Finance 125/228 (Q3)
Industrial Relations 38/58 (Q3)
Public Administration 114/157 (Q3)
Sociology and Political Science 645/1243 (Q3)
Strategy and Management 330/427 (Q4)
Scopus
SNIP
0,308
Scopus
Cites
132
Scopus
Documents
22

 

Society and Economy
Publication Model Gold Open Access
Submission Fee none
Article Processing Charge 900 EUR/article with enough waivers
Regional discounts on country of the funding agency World Bank Lower-middle-income economies: 50%
World Bank Low-income economies: 100%
Further Discounts Sufficient number of full waiver available. Editorial Board / Advisory Board members: 50%
Corresponding authors, affiliated to an EISZ member institution subscribing to the journal package of Akadémiai Kiadó: 100%
Subscription Information Gold Open Access

Society and Economy
Language English
Size B5
Year of
Foundation
1972
Volumes
per Year
1
Issues
per Year
4
Founder Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem
Founder's
Address
H-1093 Budapest, Hungary Fővám tér 8.
Publisher Akadémiai Kiadó
Publisher's
Address
H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.
Responsible
Publisher
Chief Executive Officer, Akadémiai Kiadó
ISSN 1588-9726 (Print)
ISSN 1588-970X (Online)