European Universities and Science And Technology Research Paper

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The role of science and technology at European universities has been undergoing tremendous changes (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997, Zinberg 1991). Given the increased importance of information technology and the emerging global knowledge-based economy, scientific research and development, as well as academic training, form the basis of national policies and institutional strategies to promote economic growth. As a consequence, universities are expected to respond to the need for well-trained scientists and engineers, new knowledge, and applied science (Zinberg 1991). The industry and technology-oriented academic fields like engineering and business management find it easier to combine science (as basic research) with technology (as a product of applied research) in order to meet the new requirements of the economy and to raise additional funds. Other disciplines in the social sciences or humanities may have greater difficulty in maintaining a key position within universities and obtaining necessary resources (Slaughter and Leslie 1997).

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In order to understand the current trends in academic science and technology in Europe, it is important to describe the institutional varieties of universities. Trends in different European countries serve as a basis for analyzing new challenges for higher education systems. Consequences for the production and management of knowledge show the new imperative for the future, which emphasizes a redefinition of the relationship between universities, industry, and the state in Europe (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997, Neave and Van Vught 1991).

1. Academic Science And Technology In Europe

European systems of higher education consist of a variety of universities and colleges (Gellert 1993, Teichler 1996). On a very general level, two types of universities prevail: one of a comprehensive character and the other specializing in one field or area. The comprehensive university represents a conglomerate of different faculties, academic programs, and consequently a larger number of students. Specialized universities are focused on a particular academic discipline or field, such as business administration or engineering, with only one faculty and fewer students. Specialized universities tend to focus on applied research and professional training, thereby responding more easily to external needs of the labor market and private industry. Comprehensive universities are more likely to be dedicated to basic research and training (Teichler 1996).

The modern European university which combines research and teaching emerged in the early nineteenth century and went through a lively period of transitions up to the present. The proliferation of fields (e.g., biotechnology, telecommunications, electronic commerce) and new institutional types (e.g., business schools, vocational colleges) have been based on the increasingly diverse research and education needs of national economies. In retrospect, this differentiation of functions appears to have been a consequence of the new requirements of the labor market and changes in the knowledge infrastructure (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997). At the same time, the role of higher education shifted emphasis from social mobility to wealth creation (Nowotny 1995). In other words, universities had to find new forms to translate science into technology, moving away from earlier concerns with liberal education and curiosity-driven research (Slaughter and Leslie 1997). Many European governments and ministries have played a pivotal role in this shifting of emphasis in higher education systems by supporting universities through research money and other financial incentives (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997).

These new trends in the social and economic context of universities have also changed the role of knowledge (Gibbons et al. 1994). Traditionally, institutions of higher education across the world have performed core missions and functions: knowledge production (research), knowledge dissemination (teaching), and knowledge application (service–outreach). For universities operating in a social context of application, research has to accumulate not only disciplinary- based knowledge but also useful results for society. The reason for the increasing application–orientation of higher education systems, especially in Europe, has been mass higher education leading to new forms of knowledge production focusing more on a link between science and technology. As a consequence, the university has moved from an ideal model (i.e., social change) to a pragmatic model (i.e., wealth creation) (Gibbons et al. 1994, Trow 1973).

In Europe, mass higher education not only entails a sharp increase in students, faculty, and institutions. Generally, it also implies increasing institutional diversity, organizational complexity, and academic heterogeneity. Also, public pressure has challenged the ideal of autonomous universities as ‘ivory towers’ and has called for more accountable institutions (Dill and Sporn 1995). In the following section these challenges are analyzed more closely.

2. New Challenges For European Systems Of Higher Education

Colleges and universities in Europe have become part of mass higher education systems because of expansion and diversification. Expansion refers to the large increases in student numbers in most European countries caused by public policies to provide education to a larger portion of the population. Diversification means mostly a binary system of higher and vocational education translating into different types of institutions for different target groups (Sporn 1999). In this process, knowledge production and dissemination have become very important. ‘The driving force behind accelerated supply and demand of marketable knowledge lies in the intensification of international competition in business and industry. In many cases in-house research is no longer sufficient to meet competitive demands. In order to commercialize knowledge, firms have to look for new types of links with universities, government laboratories as well as with other firms’ (Gibbons et al. 1994, p. 46).

An additional factor aggravating the socioeconomic challenges for higher education has to do with the trend to ‘scientification’ of employment and work (Teichler 1996). The service and production industry has become increasingly dependent on the results of research. Additionally, a growing number of positions are labeled as ‘knowledge work’ and call for high skills and solid academic training. Management positions, especially in large companies with a wide reach, require a university degree (Teichler 1996).

As many observers of higher education have outlined, major challenges within European universities have occasioned the following changes (Gibbons 1994, Sporn 1999): diversification of functions, different social profiles of student population, more professional education, diverse funding of higher education, shifting power between academic and administrative roles, focus on efficiency and effectiveness, and new forms of knowledge production. In this realm, science and technology have gained importance by being more tightly linked with each other and with external constituencies. Scientific research has been translated into application-oriented results, thereby raising public credibility and legitimacy. For this amalgamation of science and technology, higher education scholars employ to the widely used term ‘technoscience,’ implying a combination of ‘basic and applied research, discovery and innovation, science and product, knowledge and commodity’ (Slaughter and Leslie 1997, p. 38).

As outlined earlier, these changes in university science and technology have been based on new economic conditions in many European countries caused by budgetary constraints and new patterns of public spending. Additionally, restructured job markets call for constant relearning of the workforce. These different areas display a general cross-national dynamic and include five major trends: scarce financial resources, changing role of the state, new technologies, continuing education, and increasing globalization (Sporn 1999).

State budgets for higher education have been restructured in many European countries. Although public funds for higher education are stable or even increasing in some European countries, they cannot respond to the rising number of students. As a consequence, new sources of funding are needed. Public spending is very often based on output measures like the number of graduates or publications. As a consequence, universities have acquired a more diversified public and private funding base and have concentrated their strategies on enhancing efficiency and effectiveness of teaching and research (Clark 1998, Williams 1995).

Closely linked to the problem of limited public funds are new mechanisms of coordination and control in higher education systems, especially regarding the role of the state. Many European systems formerly characterized by ‘state control’ have moved to a state ‘supervising’ model, with increased institutional self-regulation and autonomy while the state steers the system from a distance. In many cases like Sweden or The Netherlands, leadership structures have been strengthened and quality control is handled through external audits and evaluation (Neave and Van Vught 1991). As national economies in Europe have become more volatile and dynamic, the life-cycle of knowledge has shortened and employees need to refresh their expertise more frequently. Hence, continuing education and lifelong learning have become key elements of national policies for enhancing economic productivity. Universities responded by expanding their programs, offering adult education, interdisciplinary programs, and part-time studies with a more vocational orientation. This has expanded the number of continuing, postsecondary, and professional education programs. In Europe, this trend has been labeled as the ‘professionalization’ of general education (Gellert 1993, Teichler 1996).

The new knowledge economy is mainly based on the widespread use of technology. Information technology has also changed university teaching, research, and management. The expansion of the Internet and affordable hardware and software have led to computer literacy of large parts of the student population. The impacts on how students learn, professors teach and conduct research, and administrators manage the institution are complex. Recent trends like virtual universities and distance education programs, international research projects, and administrative information systems are a few examples of changes influenced by information technology (Sporn 1999). Globalization and international competition have put pressure on colleges and universities. The importance of research and development, the creation of common markets, rising mobility of students and staff, and the free movement of capital have increased the need for universities to contribute to national wealth by making the economy more competitive (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997). Consequently, market-oriented university practices and national policies have been pushing for university-industry research and development programs which aim at stimulating regional economic development (Slaughter and Leslie 1997).

These trends in European higher education systems have caused a process of restructuring of academic science and technology. Developments include new technology transfer strategies, shifting relations between applied and basic research, new funding patterns, and rising need for management capacity within universities.

3. Consequences For Academic Science And Technology

3.1 Knowledge Transfer

Government and universities have been designing strategies which should create and sustain competitive advantage in industry. The critical role of knowledge transfer either through research or through teaching has triggered new alliances between industry, government, and academic institutions. Trends include partnerships between universities and businesses, technology transfer units, incentives for a combination of basic and applied research, and for professors contributing to spin-off or start-up companies (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997).

Knowledge transfer is often enhanced through funding for research that supports economic development. At the same time, industry relationships help universities to raise additional funds and support companies in their research and development. In this process, academic science and technology are increasingly linked to form the basis for this relationship. For example in The Netherlands, the University of Twente moved from a third-class technology-oriented institution to a successful university through the creation of new entrepreneurial practices focusing on transfer, research, and development (known as TRD activities) (Clark 1998).

International organizations like the European Union (EU) have a high interest in knowledge transfer as well. EU projects like EUREKA reflect new state interests by establishing large supranational networks of scientists and practitioners to stimulate technological innovations. EUREKA promotes ‘market driven’ collaborative research and development through the use of advanced technologies thereby strengthening European competitiveness.

3.2 Problem Orientation

As higher education systems all over Europe have expanded, research and teaching have shifted their emphasis as well. Given the complex requirements of the job market, of knowledge-based industries, and of society at large, research and teaching have to be oriented more to problems than to disciplines. This orientation helps universities to better meet the expectations and needs of external constituencies and offer relevant programs to their students. Increasingly, universities define fields of competence (e.g., environmental economics, social medicine) which combine different disciplines and areas to provide solutions to problems like pollution or AIDS (Gibbons et al. 1994, Dill and Sporn 1995).

As a consequence, new forms of knowledge production have become necessary. Gibbons et al. (1994) coined the term ‘Mode 2’ knowledge production, ascribing five basic attributes to it: application context, transdisciplinarity, heterogeneity and organizational diversity, social accountability and reflexivity, and quality control. ‘Mode 1’ refers to the traditional discipline-oriented research of tenured faculty members. ‘Mode 2’ knowledge production includes a wider, more temporary, and heterogeneous set of researchers and practitioners collaborating on a problem defined in a specific and localized context (Gibbons et al. 1994).

3.3 Market-Based Funding

In Europe, scarce resources for higher education have given rise to new claims for public accountability and performance-based funding of universities. These developments have increased the importance of market mechanisms for financing higher education (Williams 1995). Departments or groups which work in a field that is highly relevant to industry and society have more opportunities for raising additional funds and for gains in the process of resource allocation. They are also better able to contribute to the university budget through their share of overheads. These additional funds can then be used to cross-subsidize other less ‘marketable’ areas or programs (Clark 1998). Mechanisms of market-based funding have also created a more entrepreneurial culture within many European universities. Faculty members responsible for their own research institute or center at universities can form a periphery which obtains additional income and also serves the public need for applied research, teaching, and service (Clark 1998, Sporn 1999). Again, fields which can more easily combine science and technology, like telecommunications, are especially inclined to get involved in these activities. Conflicts arise if less successful areas which belong to the tradition of university research and teaching get scrutinized for downsizing or closure (Slaughter and Leslie 1997).

3.4 Managerial Capacity

The new relationship between universities, government, and industry requires institutional management capacity. Given the need to translate external demands into internal responses and strategies, faculty members in Europe—who have been steering universities for decades—have become overburdened. A new type of professional university manager is emerging, who is responsible for institutional efficiency and effectiveness (Gumport and Sporn 1999). Reforms in many countries like Austria, The Netherlands, Sweden, or Spain were aimed at strengthening the leadership structure of universities.

European universities historically were dominated by strong state control and little decision-making power. But with ongoing reforms in many European countries, professional administrators and university managers have gained importance and governments have delegated many tasks to the institutional level. Consequently, in countries like Norway or Sweden (Gornitzka et al. 1998) an increase in the number of university administrators can be observed while the size of the faculty stagnates. The rising interest in knowledge transfer based on science and technology is adding to the need for management support for new activities.

Tensions arise from these trends as to the new status of employees and the relationship between basic and applied research. While in many continental European countries university professors have been state employees, new trends call for more flexible and decentralized forms of employment. Also, at the institutional level, basic and applied research will have to be redefined. Although the basic mission of the university includes basic research a more market oriented system requires a larger amount of applied and problem-oriented research projects.

To summarize, the link between science and technology has played a critical role within universities in Europe. National policies have converged around increasing national economic competitiveness through product and process innovations, channeling students and resources into well-funded curricula that meet the needs of a global marketplace, preparing more students for the workplace at lower costs, and managing institutions more effectively and efficiently (Slaughter and Leslie 1997).

The expansion of European higher education systems will continue to aim at high participation rates. European economies will need more qualified specialists as well as valid research results in applied fields in order to stay abreast of major technological and scientific developments. Governments will move from a control to a supervising role, thereby trying to enhance new partnerships between higher education and industry to boost the economy. Universities have to emphasize their core commitment to a service function in order to meet these high expectations and needs. Science and technology will continue to play a pivotal role in this development.


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