We are but one link in a chain, gifted with a heritage that we must take onward and upward. It is our responsibility to do better. At the very least we must endeavour to do so.

Applying this to the university context gives rise to the question: what can universities do to help improve our society and our environment? What can they do to help create a better future?

Universities are active agents with a tremendous influence on their environment, agents that  are having to assimilate new functions and new responsibilities. If we take a map of the European regions and represent the top 100 European universities, we find that they are located in those regions with the strongest economic indicators, the strongest indicators relating to the information society, or the best ratio of patents per capita.

Lisbon indicators, information society indicators, patents and regions

European universities and regions

It is for this reason, many authors argue, that the functions of universities have broadened to include:

  1. Knowledge creation.
  2. Creation of human capital.
  3. Transfer of know-how.
  4. Technological innovation.
  5. Capital investment.
  6. Regional leadership and influence
  7. Production of knowledge infrastructure.

All these, in particular the last two, are closely related to the CIE initiative and to the university’s direct commitment to its environment. But to drive these functions forward and manage them effectively, they need to be measured – in other words we must ascertain the actual effect of their activity, even if only in approximate terms. Thus, their impact can be monitored, changes can be made, and strategies can be re-thought, as required. Otherwise, there is no meaningful basis for action. The university community, while so concerned about measurement and rigor in each field or knowledge specialism, has shown no such concern for impact measurement in its own performance (or at least it has not incorporated it into its core management processes).

When talking about impact we must distinguish between two types of link:

Let us consider this, then, in light of the current crisis.

Economic theory recognizes that in certain situations, an increase in productivity cannot be produced simply by increasing the physical capital per worker. Beyond a certain level, there is no growth unless human capital increases.

The solution? Training, and the development of complementary skills in new technologies through lifelong learning which in turn enables individuals to adapt to continuous improvements in technology and advances in knowledge. The more suitable the training, the greater the chances of employment, higher income levels and the capacity to adapt. This means improved social inclusion, crime reduction, and more responsible guidelines for healthcare, society and the environment. These are but some examples.

The endogenous growth theory recognizes that knowledge is produced in just the same way as other forms of capital – it is not exogenous, and it doesn’t grow on trees. It requires input to the growth process, in the form of human capital and knowledge capital, along with conventional, physical capital, both public and private.

Alongside this, we must highlight the need to create specialized clusters capable of developing organizational capacity (a fundamental concept).

This is the pledge made by the university and the CIE. And the rate of return (on the physical, human and knowledge capital) is the best indicator of society’s net profit in relation to university funding, be that return private, public, social or individual in nature.

As you know, the CIE initiative is designed along these lines. It’s an interesting idea albeit with a lot to improve on in its implementation. It aims to deliver improvements to the University system by focusing efforts on achieving excellence, partnership working, differentiation, and internationalisation, with Universities working in collaboration with players from the public, private and social sectors.

A CIE project is not, and nor should it be, something that is being done ‘by others’, something that was already happening anyway, a mere communication plan, or a sales pitch for supposed successes based on exaggerated claims. It is not even conceived as a means of drawing in funding. On the contrary, a CIE project is designed to be:

To derive the greatest benefit from this opportunity, the direction to follow is to work towards, and invest towards, a scenario in which universities and CIEs can develop strong human capital, generate knowledge, and increase the appeal of their environment. But this must be measured.

This will be the best possible legacy.



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