The higher education system in Germany and Austria is similar in many regards (binary systems, open access). Yet, there are a few differences, also with regard to third mission worth noting. The more centralized and financially worthwhile approach adopted in Germany with the program of “Innovative Hochschule” has undoubtedly the potential to better control initiatives along the lines of sustainability, local impact and societal contribution. In addition, it is sketched why there are many shoulders needed to carry the third mission weight.
Limitations of the Austrian Model
In Austria, research universities have an obligation to transfer and social commitment in their performance agreement; this, however, is not the case for Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS). For one, the term “applied” already suggests a practical orientation and interconnectedness of science, economy and society. In addition, mutual exchange with a variety of stakeholders runs in their DNA. Yet, the specific form and structure of third mission activities are in the hands of the respective institution of higher learning and its members. Here the major findings of a study on Third Mission at Austrian UAS are discussed (Gaisch & Noemeyer, 2020).
Despite a clear commitment to third-stream activities, it was found that resources are highly limited and that teaching and research are still considered the main and most attractive pillars for the majority of academics. While German universities have established numerous transfer centres that are exclusively dedicated to TM, so far the Austrian way appears to be somehow different. Here, much scepticism is found with regard to stand-alone departments that seek to encourage third stream activities. The same holds true for the commitment and motivation of individual persons, no matter if their background is in teaching, research & development, marketing, diversity management or internationalization. Despite a sincere appreciation for their efforts, it appears nothing more than a drop in the ocean. Critical voices have been raised that the third mission not only needs to be broadly distributed amongst a variety of departments; it also has to be structurally implemented and embedded in the strategic plan of each faculty.
On a rather critical note, it was stated that individual persons could quickly be exchanged and with them, the dedication for the third mission might get lost as well. It also means that even if a high level of intrinsic motivation can be assumed for many actors within the Austrian UAS sector - they will only "invest" in new activities if their department or its individual actors benefit from them. This can be a gain in reputation, enhanced viability, a unique selling proposition or even a higher allocation of resources.
A further challenge for a broad and institutionalized third mission debate is the lack of understanding what third mission really entails and where its borders are to be found.
A challenge for a broad and institutionalized third mission debate is the lack of understanding what third mission really entails and where its borders are to be found.
Berthold, C., Meyer-Guckel, V., Rohe, W. (Hrsg.) (2010): Mission Gesellschaft. Engagement und Selbstverständnis der Hochschulen. Ziele, Konzepte, internationale Praxis. Stifterverband
Gaisch, M. & Noemeyer, D. (2020). Third Mission at Austrian Universities of Applied Sciences and the Translational Role of Hybrid Middle Managers in Broucker, B., Borden, V. H., Kallenberg, T., & Milsom, C. (Eds.). (2020). Responsibility of Higher Education Systems. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Sense. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004436558
markusgann @ envato