Universities of applied sciences are transformed into R&D-centres, but involvement of teachers and student in research remains a challenge, a Finnish benchmarking report says. For the further development of the R&D at their universities of applied sciences, the leading country of the knowledge economy looks southward. Partly funded by the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council (FINHEEC), Finnish researchers compared the organization of R&D at universities of applied sciences in Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. They conclude that the integration of R&D with teaching and learning within UAS in Europe is seen as a self-evident starting point. The basis of integration is shared participation of teachers and students. The way how R&D is organized in different UAS varies.
The researchers write: “From the point of view of teaching staff, in general, the challenge is how UAS teachers can change their role to become teacher-researchers. Some of the teachers are not interested, some are lacking skills in research and development methods. Further education of teachers and promoting their opportunities for involvement in R&D are needed to make this change happen.
A common challenge is also the resources to allocate enough time for R&D for teaching staff. Mostly this is due to limited funding, also maybe, due to too structured ways of organizing more varied and flexible learning environments within the curriculum. For students involvement of R&D is generally taking place during practical training and thesis work. But the challenge is how to create more innovative learning environments based on project work which would not take place within the walls of the institute but in the real work life – not only during practical training but during theoretical studies as well”.
Differences in strategies
“There is a strategic difference on whether the focus of research and development activities is mainly on promotion of professional expertise and practical solutions and innovations for work life or on more academic research. The R&D strategy in the Netherlands was clearly fitted to UAS ideology which stressed the cooperation especially with SME sector and public service providers. The R&D activities were also funded by a special funding mechanism RAAK to enhance cooperation between work life and higher educational institutions. Also the organizational structure with special lectorate chairs supported multi-disciplinary R&D activities.
The lectorates are situated in degree programmes and knowledge circles which thus represent the main focus areas of research. The teachers’ involvement and competence development in R&D were supported by further education, e.g. joint methodological courses with universities in Graduate school. Also the publication policy of UAS Fontys stressed low-threshold access types of publications instead of focusing on publications in academic referee publications.
UAS as think-tank
The German organizational model at Fachhochschule Dortmund resembled more that of universities which lies heavily on the activity and interests of individual professors and their interest areas. On the other hand the main focus areas of R&D were being a ”think-tank” and innovation pool for economic and technological development. The universities and universities of applied sciences worked together in various R&D projects and research institutes were seen as important partners in regional development efforts for employment and economic activity.
In all the UAS there were different kind of support systems to enhance R&D activities and cooperation with work life. The good practices were e.g. research and development events, easy access publications and co-operational alliances. The importance of being in close cooperation with enterprises and public services is essential”.
At a conference in Brussels on this theme last week, Peter Baur (European Commissions) stressed that the relationship of universities with the business community is of strategic importance and forms part of their commitment to serving the public interest. The European Commission offers a platform for the exchange of best practices and for the identification of innovative solutions.
R&D STRATEGIES AND ACTIVITIES. Comparing Universities of Applied Sciences in Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Download the report here.
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