For many, the conventional perception of universities, as well as other higher education providers, is that they are like ‘ivory towers’. The term is defined as “a state of privileged seclusion or separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world” in an online dictionary. More specifically, academics are generally considered to be less engaged with the external organisations.
Nevertheless, in a paper which is forthcoming in Science and Public Policy, I, together with Dr. Charles Larkin and Prof. Brian Lucey at Trinity Business School, have found clear evidence that there is ‘no ivory tower in sight’, at least not in Ireland or the UK (I borrow this term from Brian).
This paper, titled ‘Universities, knowledge exchange, and policy: A comparative study of Ireland and the United Kingdom’, aims to provide one of the first cross-country empirical analyses of the intensity and diversity of knowledge exchange activities by academics.
Focusing on the wide perspective of knowledge exchange, the results are based on two large scale surveys with academics in the UK and Ireland and compare them in terms of: modes of interactions, types of partners, motivations and impacts of interactions, constraints on interactions and mission of higher education perceived by academics.
It is found that academics in the two countries are both involved in a wide range of activities, with intellectual property activities being the least frequently engaged type of interaction. However, academics working at Irish and UK universities show distinct patterns of interactions with private sector companies and public sector organisations.
An important lesson from our analysis is that, if any knowledge exchange policy instrument is to be really effective, the specific context of the higher education sector as well as its external stakeholders should be deeply understood, as there simply is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
In particular, there are considerable differences between Ireland and the UK in academic engagement in knowledge exchange activities. It raises a call for caution about one country seeking to imitate, emulate, or copy policies from another without specifying similarities and differences between each other and discussing their implications. This concern is of great relevance to the Irish higher education sector, which seems to have a tradition of looking at its UK counterpart for policies and practices.
Table 1 below shows the percentage of respondents who had engaged in this activity over the three-year period up to 2014/15.
(Note: an early version of this paper can be found here)