Issue Number: SPIRAL 2018-1 – Towards a socially responsible entrepreneurial university: conceptual and analytical framework building

Author: Yuzhuo Cai

Affiliation: Faculty of management, University of Tampere, Finland

Email: *email address protected*

Type of Idea: Conceptual/theoretical framework

Collaboration envisaged:  Yes

Research Question:
How can the nature of universities in contemporary society be re-conceptualised to better understand the dynamics between innovation in the university and innovation in society and guide empirical related investigations?


Discussion Forum

  1. Advancing the concept of the “entrepreneurial university” by adding the social dimension
    Rhiannon Pugh
    Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University, Sweden
    *email address protected*
    What is so exciting about the project you propose is how related it is to a separate stream of research I have been involved in, along with my colleague Dr. Elisa Thomas from the University of Stavanger. We have been investigating the role of a university in Brazil in driving regional development in a more social or community-based approach. We have found that, in our case study, the university is actually involved in a number of programmes under the banner of what could be termed “social innovation” or “social entrepreneurship” perhaps. For example, we find the university running a food bank, providing education in music for poor children in the local area who cannot afford musical instruments and providing legal aid to those in need. These programmes run in parallel to the usual “third mission” activities that are well versed in the literature such as building a science park and incubator on university premises, engaging in technology transfer and IP commercialisation, and training the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. It was striking to us both how important these other kinds of “social” activities are within the university’s work, and also how under explored they are in the literature we consulted from the economic geography and management field, such as that which Cai summarises already.
    We decided that more work is needed to advance the prominent “entrepreneurial university” concept that has risen to prominence in the literature, most notably through adding the social innovation and entrepreneurship dimension. We see universities as actors in an economic sense, driving the economic development of their regions, and also in a social and cultural sense, as one of the largest employers and dominant institutions of the region, with a huge potential to enact positive change. We believe that to meet the challenges facing society today, such as growing economic inequality between rich and poor and the huge environmental sustainability challenges that we are thus far failing to grasp sufficiently, universities really need to “step up” as socially responsible actors. And in order to this on a practical and policy level, we are in desperate need of better frameworks which help us to understand and advance this social side of the university’s third mission (or is it another mission in it’s own right?). We also see that a diverse range of case studies will be needed to advance this theoretical position, and that a myriad of different understanding abound as to what an entrepreneurial university is, how it functions, and what it’s role in society is. We need a research project which appreciates the different socio-economic-cultural situations worldwide, also takes a historical perspective to understand how universities have evolved in different places and why, and has a strong link to policy practice to ensure that findings are used to develop the potential impact of universities on their regions as positively as possible. Conducting our research in Brazil we were struck by how much has been written about, in particular North American and European university contexts, but how relatively little is coming from Global South and emerging economy contexts, where the role of universities may look quite different.
    In short, I support your call for a research project in this theme, as it is only going to become more important as universities, and the academics therein, are tasked with addressing the big challenges of our times. We need to harness the Triple Helix community to build a rich and diverse research project with contributions from case study universities and regions worldwide, so that we can get a real understanding of universities’ roles within social innovation and entrepreneurship and how these can best be developed going forwards and fed into policy practice. I join you in calling for more collaborators from within and beyond the community and encourage respondents to use the open commenting function below to express their interest in joining us, and share their ideas for developing this theme going forwards.

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