Reconfiguration of university's missions in the Europe of knowledge: the rise of the 'University of the Future'

Project acronym: 
Project start date: 
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Project end date: 
Saturday, February 28, 2026
Main researcher: 
Proponent institution: 
CIPES-Centro de Investigação de Políticas do Ensino Superior
Project description: 
The ideas of knowledge society and knowledge-based economy became popular as a policy idea at the end of the 20th century being assumed as a political toolto promote European integration. Although these concepts can be merely a rhetorical device, metaphor or narrative, they were transformed in specific politicalinstruments to which higher education (HE) needs to respond. Despite the constant struggle over its definition and purpose, the need to enhance the interactionbetween HE and society and to produce knowledge with and for society caused a shi in the basic beliefs about the university. From safeguard of nationalculture and instrument for social mobility, the university became an endeavour of the national, regional, and global knowledge-based economy. Thus,universities become a ‘meaningful social actor’, capable of empowering society and contribute to local and regional socioeconomic development through theengagement of professionals in socially relevant issues [1; 2; 3]. HE and science policy epistemic communities created a number of catchwords to capture thistransformation in research (e.g. mode 2, triple helix, etc.), and in teaching (e.g. continuous education, e-learning, etc.). Despite flourishing conceptual models –entrepreneurial university, university of the future –literature has yet to capture such unprecedented changes in the universities’ complex relationship withsociety and their role in societal transformation [4].To adapt to this shi universities applied different organisational models based on processes of convergence, isomorphism and homogenization. The ‘EuropeanUniversities’ are the most recent political tool in this strategy, aiming to strengthen the link between teaching, research, innovation and knowledge transfer,while fostering education outreach to society and economy. How is the idea of ‘European universities’ being implemented? What are the main transformationsthis idea promotes in the university missions’ (re)configuration? Which organisational models are in place to implement it?Taking an agency perspective, ‘European universities’ can be seen as an inner (re)configuration of university purpose(s) and organisational model(s). Theproject’s main aim is to understand how the political strategy of implementing a knowledge-based society in Europe is leading to universities’ reconfiguration atgovernance and management, structures and professionals’ roles level. How are universities reconfiguring their missions in society, namely the traditionalteaching and research? Which governance and management models and structures are developed to ensure that the relationship with society is fully integratedin all universities’ missions? How are HE professionals’ roles and practices changing within the reconfiguration of universities’ missions? Are there genderdifferences in these professionals’ roles and practices? How are universities managing the quality of their relationship with society?Plano de trabalhoResumo10/30 A multidisciplinary and multidimensional analytical model will be proposed drawing from different areas – political science, sociology, education sciences,gender studies, management; across multiple dimensions – political, strategic and practical; at different levels – European, institutional and individual. For adeeper understanding on how these multiple dimensions intersect with institutional and individual practices and reflect on possible consequences (for HE andsociety) of this changing relationship we will resort to both qualitative (document analysis, interviews, focus groups and a world café) and quantitative (survey)data and methods.This multidisciplinary and multidimensional analytical model will be applied to a case study of 10 Portuguese universities part of European Universities’consortia since they can be considered paradigmatic [5] or extreme cases [6] in which the pressures for institutions to become socially relevant partners inaddressing wider social challenges is even more evident. These cases may provide a better understanding on how universities develop their relationship withsociety, the tensions arising between different missions and professionals, and serve as a model of the ‘university of the future’, engaged with society and able torespond to major societal challenges.This research proposal is relevant because: 1) it addresses an important topic - the way European political ideas promote transformational changes to structuralbeliefs about the university roles and social mission; 2) it proposes an innovative approach contributing to a deeper knowledge on how institutions andprofessionals are implementing these wider intrinsic and extrinsic pressures and the arising tensions; 3) it uses a case study approach based on ‘EuropeanUniversities’ consortia, itself a novel perspective on these issues; 4) it will contribute to better institutional policies in this domain, reinforcing HE potential forsocietal change and socioeconomic development.
Project keywords: 
European University Alliances; University Governance; Knowledge Society; Third Mission; Higher Education Professionals; Gender; Higher Education Quality Assurance
Financing amount: 
€ 235.055,99
Funding entity: 
FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia

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