Skip to main content

Universities in the Knowledge Economy

Final Report Summary - UNIKE (Universities in the Knowledge Economy)

Universities in the Knowledge Economy - "UNIKE"

Project coordinator: Professor Susan Wright, Aarhus University, Denmark, -

Summary of project objectives:

The UNIKE project aimed to train a networked group of critical researchers and future research leaders who would analyse the changing roles and scope of universities in emerging global knowledge economies, especially comparing developments in Europe to the Asia Pacific Rim. As doctoral education is given increasing importance in knowledge economies, there was a second ambition to generate potential research leaders who are committed and able to develop doctoral education in their own institutions and internationally.

Work performed within the project:
The UNIKE project and its 14 (initially 15) sub-projects investigated how universities are located in new socio-economic and political complexes and developed theoretical and methodological approaches and the research capacities needed to trace processes of university transformation spanning transnational, national, institutional, departmental and individual scales. Through the UNIKE training programme, a new generation of researchers was trained to critically examine how universities are located in new socio-economic and political complexes and to use research skills in their future careers to analyse and act on the future development of institutions central to the knowledge economy. Fellows were trained in planning, managing and budgeting their own projects, policy analysis and development, international networking, academic publication, using a range of media and genres to get research results into the public domain, research grant writing and conference organisation. By being organized in and responsible for their own fellow-led groups and by learning participatory development methods, the fellows generated collective agendas both for their own work and for actively shaping the future institutional underpinning of the knowledge economy.

Scientific results:
The project has resulted in a number of strong research projects that dislodge earlier understandings of the societal role of universities and the sectors in which they participate. Main results include:
• Analysis of new forms of market making and the blurring of boundaries between universities and other ‘knowledge providers’.
• A new interpretation of the transforming modes of international coordination and policy travel in higher education including through international university collaboration, university ranking agencies and in regional entities such as EU and ASEAN.
• A mapping and synthesis of international experiments with ‘alternative’ models for university governance and the establishment of an international network to redesign public universities.
• Reconceptualization of HE-internationalization that includes a global periphery perspective.
• Comprehensive analysis of the interlinkages between shifting university mandates, changing notions of university autonomy, concepts and modes of undergraduate and doctoral education, and the transforming figure of the ideal ‘knowledge worker’ both within and beyond academia.
• Analysis of university reform as a gendered issue and the establishment of a research network focused on the creation of ‘livable’ universities.

• 62 papers have been published in international journals and books. A further 26 are submitted or forthcoming.
• An enormously active conference dissemination activity has resulted in a shift in the conversation in critical university and higher education studies and brought UNIKE fellows into central debates in the field, as evidenced by an invited CHER 2016 keynote and panel on the results of the fellows’ research. Future panels are taking place at ECER 2017 in Copenhagen and ECPR 2017 in Oslo.
• Extensive focus on representing the Marie Curie programs as ambassadors among the UNIKE participants. Some UNIKE fellows are already taking active part in the Marie Curies alumni network.
• The website contains full documentation of the project and links to (or embed) UNIKE’s social media platforms. As of March, the UNIKE Youtube channel had 2,412 views and the UNIKE twitter handle had 234 followers.

Final results and potential impact:
The project has substantially achieved its core aim, the creation of a networked cohort of research leaders to act reflexively in bringing European and global universities into the future. UNIKE alumnae have taken up positions in research and university governance in Germany, United Kingdom and Ethiopia. New projects building on the UNIKE group and its work are under way, including a three year project funded by Aarhus University Research Foundation on scientific diplomacy across Europe and China.

Following from UNIKE’s final conference at Copenhagen, the network has mobilized the research findings of the UNIKE fellows and the project level scientific debates to formulate a new framework for analysis of the contemporary organization, role and mandate of the university. This has highlighted the radical embeddedness of universities in wider societal transformations and in an ecology of intertwined relationships with public and private agencies and companies. A Centre for Higher Education Futures has been established at Aarhus University based on this agenda and lead by UNIKE coordinator, Sue Wright (see A summative collaborative book on the state of the art critical and forward looking analysis of universities’ role, organization and mandate forwarded with contributions from all UNIKE fellows and several UNIKE partners is agreed for publication by Berghahn.

UNIKE is engaged in the reflexive development of doctoral education in Europe and beyond. A strong series of studies on the development of doctoral education in Europe and the impact of UNIKE on participating universities’ doctoral training has been circulated through the UNIKE homepage and on UNIKE social media platforms, including international listservs, to ensure maximum impact. UNIKE was presented at the EU conference on the Future of the Doctorate and in an event focused on EU-China doctoral collaboration. UNIKE fellows have led an extensive study of experiences of mobility among Marie Skladowska Curie doctoral fellows in Europe for circulation in scholarly and policy circles, as well as to the public.

Reacting to the UNIKE research, and building on the UNIKE conferences in Auckland and Copenhagen, a network of scholars associated with UNIKE developed the AUCKLAND DECLARATION (see ) focused on the strengthening of the public role of universities. The declaration is establishing itself as a reference point in university debates. Likewise, the UNIKE final conference in Copenhagen was instrumental in galvanizing an international network of 37 experts to develop new forms of universities and specifically establish a new university on the co-operative model. (See for further details).