Higher Education Institutions (HEI) can, and should, play a significant role, operating explicitly to serve society. In the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education in 1998 it was stated that "Relevance in higher education should be assessed in terms of the fit between what society expects of institutions and what they do. Governments around the world are implementing policies designed to encourage Higher Education to be more responsive to society's needs and to actively make contributions to society by developing programs on university-society linkage, university-community cooperation, and university-academia-industry cooperation' (Kiyohiko Kuroda, Toyohashi University of Technology). The British Government has labeled its universities dynamos of growth in a knowledge driven economy.
University activities have traditionally been based on two principal activities, or Missions: teaching and research. However, there has been a move towards recognising all the other activities of the HEI, what Etzkowitz called the Third Mission. This is the exploitation and dissemination of HEI derived knowledge and capabilities into non-academic environments. Activities such as Continuing Education, Technology Transfer & Innovation and Social Engagement are services that demonstrate the University's interaction with society.
There are several commonly accepted ranking systems for the First and Second Missions, which provide indicators to measure excellence in Higher Education Institutions around the world. Rankings improve quality assurance by allowing the institutions to understand their own performance, develop best practices, and provide effective and efficient value to society. They also provide quality indicators to governments, society and industry. However, there are no commonly agreed indicators or methodologies to assess quality in Third Mission activities (Van Vught et al., 2005).
This project will develop such indicators, promoting excellence in Third Mission activities, and encouraging Higher Education Institutions to share best practices across Europe.