Just published – Special Issue on University-industry collaborations for inclusive innovation and sustainable development

Universities are in a privileged position for contributing to sustainable development goals, such as those promoted by the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. On the one hand, they are at the forefront of research on environmental sustainability, social development and inclusive innovation. On the other hand, universities engage in many interactions with industry and other stakeholders (as part of their so called ‘third mission’), through which they can generate a range of outcomes that are aligned with sustainable development objectives – for example, fostering regional growth, spurring entrepreneurship, creating new jobs and employment opportunities, upskilling business employees, widening access to education, graduates, and improving living conditions.

Yet, the contribution of universities toward sustainable development by means of third mission activities remains largely unexplored.

The eight papers selected for the Special Issue we have guest edited for the International Journal of Intellectual Property Management (Vol. 12, N. 1) contribute to filling three key gaps in the academic and policy discourse on universities’ contribution to sustainable development through third mission engagement:

  • How do universities align their structures and behaviours toward making inclusive innovation and sustainable development a central focus in their third mission engagement?
  • How — through which mechanisms — do universities engage with external actors to achieve inclusive innovation and sustainable development objectives?
  • How can students (who are universities’ main channel of knowledge exchange with the external world) be recruited to contribute to inclusive innovation and sustainable development?

The papers represent a variety of disciplinary perspectives (economics, management, organization studies, education) and international contexts (with evidence from Brazil, Costa Rica, the Netehrlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Uruguay). They provide new knowledge and frameworks that can be useful both to researchers intending to further investigate these issues, and to practitioners, such as university managers, being confronted with new expectations of social engagement from funders and from society at large. Readers of the special issue might benefit from acquiring greater knowledge in relation to, among others:

  • the kind of organizational changes that have been successfully implemented by organizations that seek to achieve sustainable development objectives through collaboration between university, industry and government;
  • how universities need to engage with actors in the innovation system that are less familiar with the norms and language of scientific research, if they are to achieve such objectives, and how this can be done;
  • the different approaches that universities can adopt when engaging with external stakeholders in order to achieve sustainable development, including various forms of collaborations and the involvement of intermediaries;
  • how universities can endow students with cognitive and practical tools that enable them to engage with socially-relevant objectives, through specific projects and learning activities that promote interactions with external organizations;
  • how the broader university ecosystem affects entrepreneurial activity among university students.

The papers underline the importance of universities as key drivers for addressing inclusive innovation and sustainable development goals. At the same time, they highlight how complex and heterogeneous are the mechanisms, the challenges and the dynamics that universities have to engage with in order to embrace and address these goals. Institutional support is needed and new structures, incentives and policies need to be put into place in order to ease knowledge flows between universities and various kinds of external agents including businesses and their local communities.

We hope that this special issue can pave the way for more work aimed at putting university-industry collaborations for inclusive innovation and sustainable development on the map of research into universities’ third mission engagement.

The special issue is available here.

Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent, Ugo Rizzo and Federica Rossi