Transforming Europe into a knowledge-based economy has been a prime objective of the European Union since the Lisbon European Council of March 2000.
A knowledge society depends for its growth on the production of new knowledge, its diffusion through education and training, its dissemination through information and communication technologies, and on its use through new industrial processes or services.
With 4,000 institutions, over 17 million students and some 1.5 million staff, of whom 435,000 are researchers, European universities have enormous potential, but this potential is not fully harnessed and put to work effectively to underpin Europe’s drive for more growth and more jobs.
Universities are unique, due to the key role they play in the three fields of: research and exploitation of its results, thanks to industrial cooperation and spin-off; education and training, in particular training of researchers; and regional and local development, to which they can contribute significantly.
I imagine a future university that places knowledge transfer is as its core and that measure its knowledge transfer activities with a wide range of internationally adopted indicators that go beyond the traditional measures of patenting, licensing, number of spin–offs and revenue including research collaboration and other “non–academic” users and engagers.
These core indicators are appropriately interpreted considering contextual factors. For example, output metrics are not viewed in isolation and input indicators are key to shaping outcomes.
“I envision universities and Public Research Organisations (PROs) that share common indicators to track their progress in knowledge transfer and are able to benchmark with similar institutions working in similar environments.”
They use a composite indicator/scoreboard that allows universities and PROs to measure progress on the different key elements of knowledge transfer activities. They use a web-based tool, which can be used for data acquisition, and allows self-assessment and benchmarking.
There are several barriers to adoption of core harmonised indicators, from the practical through to the philosophical. The latter includes a fear of how such data might be used and the implications for universities and PROs and their Knowledge Transfer Offices. This is not without foundation, as there has tended to be a crude interpretation by commentators, without consideration of context.
There is also the issue of how the EU–wide data are collected, curated and reported. The collection and analysis should be managed by a credible organisation that understands KT and is recognised by the KT profession. This organisation should be neutral and collaborate with national KT associations and government agencies as appropriate. Incentives may be required at a national level to stimulate and support the ability to engage at the pan–EU level.
In this context, the European Commission’s Competence Centre on Technology Transfer, in collaboration with the European Association of KT professionals (ASTP), convened an Expert Group to consider how best to progress towards an EU–wide set of harmonised metrics for knowledge transfer in PROs (including universities).
The European Commission and ASTP can play an important role in facilitating consensus building for adoption of a European-wide set of harmonised indicators, definitions and implementation mechanisms going forward. In this regard, a crucial element of success will be the engagement of leadership in universities and PROs in addition to their technology transfer offices, and key stakeholders so that the project may be of value to all.
Giancarlo Caratti is Head for Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer at the European Commission, managing its intellectual property and promoting technology transfer. In 2015 he was Deputy Commissioner General for the EU participation in the World Expo Milano. He worked in the Universities of Florence and Pisa as teaching and research assistant in mechanical engineering. He spent one year as visiting scholar at the Georgia Institute of Technology and worked in a private engineering firm before entering the EC in 1986.