Under the Knowledge Society narratives, the European Innovation Policy has been promoting the collaboration between universities and industry, government, media-based and culture-based public and civil society (Carayannis & Campbell, 2019). In this context, the mission of universities, considered as core knowledge institutions, has been challenged and the traditional roles of education and teaching have been broadened to include the dissemination of the knowledge to the society. Consequently, academics are encouraged to adopt entrepreneurial behaviour and to engage with non-academics stakeholders.
The literature on knowledge transfer tends to focus on more applied areas and to associate collaboration with industry with technological areas. However, the academic engagement with society should be approached through a broader perspective, including all the interactions with non-academic organizations (Perkmann, 2013).
Based on a representative dataset of a survey delivered in Portugal, between November of 2018 and January of 2019, this paper intends to compare the types of academic engagement performed by Portuguese academics from different scientific areas. We argue that the type of engagement strongly depends on the scientific field. The external activities reported by the academics in the survey were grouped in 4 dimensions based on the literature review: formal collaboration, informal collaboration, commercialization and education. A linear regression is applied in order to estimate the relationship between the different disciplines and each dimension.
Our results suggest that the types of engagement vary according to the scientific areas. Commercialization (patenting and spin-offs) is much more associated with technological areas, than with social sciences, arts and humanities. However, academic from these areas tend to engage more external partners through informal and ‘relational’ collaboration. Moreover, formal research collaboration, such as consultancy and research contracts plays a relevant role in academic engagement in social sciences. Additionally, activities associated with education such as the supervision of the students' internships tend to be more relevant in more applied areas than in humanities, physics or mathematics.
This study aims to contribute to the debate on academic engagement with society, emphasizing the role of the scientific areas. On the one hand, it highlights the existence of different types and dimensions of academic engagement, which vary between commercialisation-driven activities to informal forms of collaboration. On the other hand, it contribute to understand the relationship between such types of academic engagement and the different scientific areas. It finally draws attention to the relevance of informal channels of university-society collaboration, particularly developed by academics linked to arts, humanities and social sciences, and which impact despite increasingly discussed in the literature, is still ‘underestimated.’