Moving beyond technology transfer: Evaluating and measuring the knowledge exchange (KE) performance of higher education institutions (HEIs) in the spatial context

Name and affiliation of session organisers:

Dr. Chiara Marzocchi
Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester

Dr. Federica Rossi
Department of Management, Birkbeck, University of London

Dr. Elvira Uyarra
Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester

Dr. Fumi Kitagawa
Business School, University of Edinburgh

Moving beyond technology transfer: evaluating and measuring the knowledge exchange (KE) performance of universities in the spatial context

Knowledge exchange (KE) interactions between higher education institutions (HEIs) and community stakeholders feature prominently in the current academic and policy discourse (Perkmann et al. 2013). While it is acknowledged that universities contribute to foster development via multiple activities (Boucher et al., 2003; Etzkowitz 2003; Feldman et al, 2016), the majority of studies has focused on a narrow set of practices linked to the economic value generated by technology transfer, neglecting other types of activities which can be less visible (or less easily quantifiable), but equally or even more important for regional economies (Breznitz and Feldman, 2012).

In recent years this approach has been challenged for its limited attention to the wider range of KE activities that HEIs undertake, many of which are particularly relevant for regional development processes. These may include: the movement of people from research to industry as part of university-industry collaboration (Laursen et al.2011); reaching out to wider communities (Hughes and Kitson 2012; Benneworth et al 2013), supporting student entrepreneurship and employability (Astebro at al. 2012; Bergmann et al. 2016), enhancing sub-national public policy agenda (Kitagawa and Lightowler, 2012) and addressing sustainability and growth challenges (Hayter and Cahoy 2018). Much is still to be understood in terms of how these activities can be effectively measured and how metrics can be implemented into policy-relevant instruments such as accreditation and performance based funding frameworks (Rosli and Rossi, 2016), or rankings (Fuller, Benyon and Pickernell, 2017).

This special session would welcome papers that address some of the above issues and develop both theoretical and empirical contributions about:

Better understanding of the scope and effectiveness of KE activities: what are the activities and factors that influence HEI’s KE performance; what is the changing geography of KE; how different local stakeholders (small versus large companies, start-ups, social enterprises, etc.) engage in KE; does interdisciplinarity improve the chances of diffusion and absorption of knowledge and fills a gap across knowledge domains untapped by market needs.

Critical appraisal of existing KE metrics, and investigating potential improvements: what are the most adequate metrics for evidencing the breadth of KE activities undertaken by HEIs, their impact beyond HEIs (including impact on their local and regional economy), and the extent to which knowledge from HEIs is used across the economy (for instance, by technical or professional business services; by the public sector; etc.).

Effectiveness and limitations of incentives to KE: whether (financial and nonfinancial) incentives work; what are the tensions and potential challenges in implementing these incentives across different actors and geographies of engagement; what organisational capabilities and resources are needed to implement institutional incentives; whether KE activities should be more represented within university rankings, and in other HEI performance assessment exercises and accreditation processes; what are the pitfalls of performance-based funding; what successful experiences have been associated to improvements in KE performance.


Åstebro, T., Bazzazian, N., & Braguinsky, S. (2012). Startups by recent university graduates and their faculty: Implications for university entrepreneurship policy. Research Policy, 41(4), 663–677.

Audretsch, D., Lehmann, E., Warning, S. (2004). University Spillovers: Does the Kind of Science Matter? Industry and Innovation 11:193–206.

Benneworth, P., Charles, D., Hodgson, R., and Humphrey, L. (2013). ‘The Relationship of Community Engagement With Universities’ Core Missions’, in P. Benneworth (ed). University Engagement with Socially Excluded Communities, pp. 85-101.
Dordrecht: Springer

Bergmann, H., Hundt, C. & Sternberg, R. (2016). What makes student entrepreneurs? On the relevance (and irrelevance) of the university and the regional context for student startups. Small Business Economics, 47(1), 53-76.

Breznitz, S., Feldman, M. (2012). The engaged university. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 36(2), 139-157.

Boucher G, Conway C, Van der Meer E. (2003). Tiers of engagement by universities in their region’s development, Regional Studies 37 (9): 887-97.

Etzkowitz, H. (2003). Research groups as “quasi-firms”: The invention of the entrepreneurial university. Research Policy 32(1):109-121.

Feldman, M., Gertler, M., Wolfe, D. (2006). University technology transfer and national systems of innovation: introduction to the Special Issue of Industry and Innovation. Industry and Innovation 13:359–370.

Fuller, D., Benyon, M., Pickernell (2017). Indexing third stream activities in UK universities: exploring the entrepreneurial/enterprising university. Studies in Higher Education https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2017.1339029

Hayter, C.S., Cahoy, D.R. (2018). Toward a strategic view of higher education social responsibilities: A dynamic capabilities approach. Strategic Organization 16(1):12-34.

Hughes, A., Kitson, M. (2012). Pathways to impact and the strategic role of universities: new evidence on the breadth and depth of university knowledge exchange in the UK and the factors constraining its development. Cambridge Journal of Economics 36(3):723-750.

Kitagawa, F., and Lightowler, C, (2012), Knowledge Exchange: A comparison of policy, incentives and funding mechanisms in English and Scottish Higher Education Research Evaluation 22(1):1-14.

Laursen, K, Reichstein, T and Salter, A(2011), Exploring the Effect of Geographical Proximity and University Quality on University-Industry Collaboration in the United
Kingdo’, Regional Studies, 45(4): 507 — 523

Perkmann, M., Tartari, V., McKelvey, Maureen, Autio, E., Brostrom, A. et al. (2013) Academic engagement and commercialization: A review of the literature on
university-industry relations. Research Policy 42(2):423-442.

Rosli, A., Rossi, F. (2016). Third-mission policy goals and incentives from performance-based funding: Are they aligned? Research Evaluation 25(4):427-441.


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