1/2014, In English, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

FUAS Research Review – An evaluation of research, development and innovation activities at FUAS institutions

Introduction

The need to evaluate research, development and innovation (RDI) activities in universities of applied sciences has been highlighted in numerous different documents (e.g. Ministry of Education and Culture 2012; Ministry of Education & the Ministry of Employment and the Economy 2009; Academy of Finland 2009). In addition to the sector-wide analysis of RDI activities at Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (Maassen et al. 2012), a number of individual UASs have conducted their individual evaluations of RDI activities, but FUAS-level RDI analysis was lacking.

FUAS Research Review was an evaluation of the RDI activities of FUAS Federation and its individual member UASs (HAMK University of Applied Sciences, Lahti University of Applied Sciences and Laurea University of Applied Sciences). It was performed in order to get a clear and realistic picture of the research, development and innovation activities of FUAS through assessing the RDI activities of each member institute to contextualise FUAS globally and to stimulate impulses for future development at FUAS.

The evaluation looked into RDI activities from the perspective of the four focus areas of FUAS (Ensuring welfare, Technological competence and entrepreneurship, Societal security and integrity, and Environment and energy efficiency). In addition to observing the focus areas, FUAS Research Review produced and assessed information concerning the role of RDI activities at FUAS, the relation of RDI activities and education, the international aspects of the RDI activities as well as the profitability, quality and influence of the RDI activities. Furthermore, the FUAS Research Review provided information for the development of the FUAS quality system and for the forthcoming audit of the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council (FINHEEC).

FUAS Research Review Process

The review included a self-evaluation and audit by an international external Audit Board. The self-evaluation was divided into three main parts. First it concentrated on RDI in the FUAS strategy 2011–2015 and FUAS focus areas. Second, it focused on the RDI culture at FUAS and implementation of FUAS strategy by analysing FUAS RDI structures and resources, RDI practices, RDI integration into education, innovations and entrepreneurship as well as the regional influence of FUAS RDI activities. Furthermore, wide range of RDI projects were presented in order to gain better understanding of the forms, possibilities and problems of RDI at FUAS. Third, a SWOT analysis was used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of FUAS RDI.

The Audit Board consisted of two international evaluators and one Finnish evaluator. The external evaluation was based on interviews with a board range of individuals from the FUAS UASs and stakeholders, and on written documents.

Self-evaluation

According to the FUAS strategy, FUAS fortifies international practical RDI, which also generates new, internationally competitive content for education. FUAS is an engine for applied research, pragmatic innovation and RDI integrated into student-oriented education. Its RDI emphasises integrated application, transfer into practice, utilisation and commercialisation of technological and social innovations.

The strategic policies for FUAS RDI are decided by the Rectors Collegium and executed by the FUAS RD&I steering group in cooperation with the RDI development manager. In 2012, the RDI volume was approximately € 23 million (including € 13 million project budgets) which accounted for around 16% of the total RDI volume in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences.

Integration of RDI into education is one of the key strategic objectives of FUAS. The used pedagogical RDI-integrated solutions, methods and environments strengthen a creativity-based and problem-oriented student-centred culture. In 2012, over 26% of all credits carried out at FUAS institutions were R&D credits and almost 85% of thesis was commissioned by external organisations.

The most important joint RDI actions fostering innovation and entrepreneurship within FUAS are the Tuoteväylä programme, SENSE Business Idea Competition, Cambridge VentureCamp, and Innovation Express. In 2012, Tuoteväylä fungind was € 250,000 and other funding for innovations and entrepreneurial activities approximately €220,000 at FUAS. There were 240 business ideas in total in which Tuoteväylä programme funded 25 business ideas and 6 start-ups. The number of innovation disclosures was 10 and the total number of student-driven start-ups 24.

Development of FUAS RDI is based on the continuous improvement cycle (plan, do check, act). The FUAS RDI activities are implemented based on the FUAS Strategy. RDI action plan is drawn up and evaluated annually by RD&I steering group and the Rectors Colloquium based on RDI-related strategic indicators, Ministry of Education and Culture agreement indicators, and operational feedback procedures. In the future, the research review will be conducted once a strategy period.

Table 1. Summary of the current state of the RDI-related strategic indicators of FUAS.

International RDI income financing € 5,309.000
International RDI income financing 0.90 %
Nationally competed research funding € 1,422.000
Number of theses done in the wider Metropolitan area of total thesis 2,882
Share of theses done in the wider Metropolitan area of total thesis 80.7%
Share of foreign experts of total number of teaching and RDI staff 0.28%
Share of entrepreneurs compared to total number of graduates (in 2010) 3.67%

Based on the self-evaluation, FUAS has to invest in the development of RDI by increasing participation in FUAS RDI activities, committing all staff, students and stakeholders to the RDI activities, promoting the development of the RDI expertise of staff and students through common operating models, and building appropriate RDI services to support RDI activity required by strategy and the new funding model.

External evaluation

The development of FUAS and its RDI function was analysed against the backdrop of national higher education policy, European policy and international developments. To maintain or achieve a strong position, there seems to a choice for higher education institutes: either to specialise and be relatively small, or to merge and choose a clear set of priorities. The Audit Board stressed that the size does matter in some cases but not always. It is more important to make the right connection between people and groups, develop a common language, a common view and approach, and have the flexibility to adapt to changing requirements and local needs.

The Audit Board saw the idea of FUAS and its strategic ambitions as a good first step, as they offer the prospect of supporting the generation of larger groups, with critical mass to enter European projects on a regular basis, underpinned by a professional, efficient management serving the FUAS UASs. FUAS Federation will also help strengthen research capabilities while enhancing UASs’ international reputations and appeal to potential foreign research collaboration.

To succeed in this, the big challenge of FUAS is that the UASs remain separate entities who operate “on their own” instead of working on further organisation. It is also necessary that FUAS and its UASs further develop their collaborative links with public and private regional partners and enhance their RDI capacities to enable them to participate actively in international RDI activities. For this there are good opportunities, many regional organisations see FUAS and its UASs as reliable partners for the future. Good and clear communication is important for the successful development of RDI, both inside the institutes and towards the outside words.

As a conclusion of FUAS Research Review, the Audit Board defined two strategic choices for developing RDI:  1) RDI as an activity supporting teaching and 2) RDI as a self-determined function. These strategic choices lead to different challenges for university policy and suggest different goals for the management of RDI at FUAS level. The first approach does not require important changes in current RDI practices. In this choice the lack of reputation makes it difficult to access international funding resources and to improve UASs’ RDI performance and reputation. The second choice can take place by ensuring that the staff is up-to-date with the latest developments in their fields and maintains a hands-on knowledge of the shifting requirements and needs of research stakeholders and by supporting the development of research students working at graduate level.  In this choice, the critical mass of research, management capabilities and FUAS brand would be provided by an own legal entity, a FUAS Research Institute.

Future development

FUAS Research Review results were analysed carefully by the Rectors Collegium and the FUAS RD&I steering group. On a broader platform, the FUAS Research Review results have been discussed in the “Voice of FUAS” seminar for FUAS UASs’ staff. In addition, FUAS UASs have discussed the results in their internal meetings. At the moment, the establishment of FUAS Research Institute is not timely. FUAS continues by focusing on integration of RDI into learning. Based on the review results, the following development actions have been outlined for this year: 1) initiating new international RDI projects and increasing the total of external tendered RDI funding, and 2) strengthening the role of FUAS as an RDI regional development player.

Author

Ulla Kotonen, Development Manager, DSc (Econ & Bus. Adm.), FUAS – Federation of Universities of Applied Sciences, ulla.kotonen@lamk.fi

Academy of Finland. 2009. The State and Quality of Scientific Research in Finland 2009. Publication of the Academy of Finland 10/2009. http://www.aka.fi/Tiedostot/Tiedostot/Julkaisut/SIGHT_2009_English_eBook.pdf

Kotonen, U. (ed.). 2013. Integrating RDI into Learning. An evaluation of research, development and innovation activities at FUAS institutions. Publication of Lahti University of Applied Sciences, Series C Articles, reports and other current publications, part 149. http://www.fuas.fi/fuas/Materiaalipankki/Integrating%20RDI%20into%20learning.pdf.

Maassen, P, Kallioinen, O., Keränen, P., Penttinen, M., Spaapen, J.,  Wiedenhofer, R., Kajaste, M. & Mattila, J. 2012. From the bottom up. Evaluation of RDI activities of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences. Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council 7:2012. Tampere 2012. http://www.kka.fi/files/1482/KKA_0712.pdf.

Ministry of Education and Culture. 2012. Education and Research 2011 – 2016. A Development plan. Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2012:3. Department for Education and Science Policy. http://www.minedu.fi/export/sites/default/OPM/Julkaisut/2012/liitteet/okm03.pdf?lang=fi.

Ministry of Education & the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. 2009. Evaluation of the Finnish National Innovation System. Full Report. http://www.tem.fi/files/24929/InnoEvalFi_FULL_Report_28_Oct_2009.pdf.

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