Towards an engaged university

How can universities in peripheral regions better contribute into innovation and regional development? On 8th February 2022, Rıdvan Çınar defends his dissertation titled “Towards an engaged university in the periphery: Innovation, regional development and institutional change” for the PhD degree in Responsible Innovation and Regional Development at Mohn Center for Innovation and Regional Development, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences.

The increasing visibility of the impact of various societal challenges, such as climate change, territorial disparity, income inequality and ageing population has brought the role of innovation to the fore in academic and policy debates. Universities are increasingly expected to mobilise their resources to address these societal challenges by engaging with external – often local – stakeholders, thereby contributing to regional development. Such expectations are particularly high in peripheral regions, generally characterised by a weak institutional landscape. Addressing societal challenges requires universities to move beyond traditional regional engagement modes. This implies a move from technology transfer and industry collaboration to engaging with other types of innovation (e.g., social) and societal partners (e.g., municipalities and citizens) as well. It is a transformation from a mainly economic oriented third mission ingrained within the ‘entrepreneurial university’ to a new one involving social and environmental oriented regional engagement, which generally manifests within ‘the engaged university’ model.

The thesis conceptualizes transformation from the entrepreneurial to the engaged university as an institutional change process. It mainly focuses on dynamics of this process (e.g., interplay between different institutions and their impact on universities). It adopts a qualitative multiple case study design: two public universities located in peripheral regions in the Netherlands and Portugal. The main data utilised were 73 semi- structured interviews conducted in both countries and 346 policy documents.

A significant overall finding of the thesis is that transformation into an engaged university is not only dependent on the interplay between two institutions, the state and the market—as is often implied by the literature— but also involves three other institutions, namely the professions, the community and the corporation. Another significant overall finding is that formal and informal institutions in peripheral regions are also able to exert influence and power on universities to shape their behaviour and organisational identity. As such, the thesis recommends that policymakers should pay close attention to these institutional forces, regional characteristics and internal organisational dynamics of universities, if they aim to encourage various higher education institutions to pursue an engaged model.



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Rıdvan Çınar was born in 1990 in Turkey. He is a social scientist with keen interest in innovation studies, regional studies and higher education studies. He is currently employed at HVL (Mohn Center for Innovation and Regional Development) working in UniS4Vest (The role of universities in sustainable smart specialization in Vestlandet) project as a researcher. He has been a PhD candidate in Responsible Innovation and Regional Development at HVL. During his PhD studies, he spent two semesters at University of Twente, the Netherlands and European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU) for fieldwork as a visiting researcher.  Previously, he was a Marie Curie Fellow in European Commission funded RUNIN (The role of universities in innovation and regional development) project in Portugal.

Cinar’s thesis is an article-based dissertation; it consists of five articles. Two of them are single authored and three of them are co-authored. In addition, three of the articles are already published in such journals as Growth and Change, Regional Studies Regional Science, and Sustainability while two of them are under review.

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