3/2014, In English, Koulutus ja oppiminen, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

Higher Education Institutions Excellence for Society – case Lahti University of Applied Sciences


The diversity and deepening of co-operation between higher education and region is in the focus of development of higher education in Europe. Higher education institutions (HEIs) play an essential role in society: creating new knowledge, transferring it to students, re-training employees in the firms, and fostering innovations. “The third mission” of HEIs, in addition teaching and research, centres specifically on the contribution to regional development (OECD 2007; Jongbloed et al. 2008). In order to fulfil this regional role, HEIs must engage with others in their regions. Stronger ties and connections between institutions and the world of work is also necessary and needed in order to implement competence-based education (Biemans et al 2004; Wesselink et al 2010).

This article will focus on the Lahti region’s smart specialisation platform, which combined with the Lahti Living Lab concept, has been identified as a European model area. In addition, it outlines LUAS`s future operations in diversity campus, which include the Lahti University Consortium and various development companies and businesses. The approach of the issue is done by the case study (Lahti University of Applied Sciences, Finland).

The goal of Lahti University of Applied Sciences (LUAS) is to be a multidisciplinary, internationally renowned and networked actor that educates responsible professionals and generates innovation, promotes regional competitiveness, and renews the local employment sector. LUAS is involved in the regional development of the wider Helsinki metropolitan area. The strategy of LUAS has been reviewed taking into account the strategic frameworks of European and national research and innovation policies, and regional strategies. LUAS operates in the global innovation system as part of the regional innovation ecosystems of the wider Helsinki metropolitan area and Päijät-Häme. We are involved in the effort to make the EU a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy and to achieve high employment, productivity and social cohesion.

The Lahti region is renowned for the practice-based innovation model. The innovation model is manifested in the following principles:

  • A broad concept of innovation has been adopted in the Lahti region, emphasising the role of services and processes: the development of innovation capability in the public sector is also integral in this model.
  • Breaking down the traditional, linear innovation model and searching for innovation through cross-boundary ”intellectual cross-pollination”; key sources of innovation are difference and specifically – related variety – which will facilitate the creation of development platforms instead of supporting narrow clusters.
  • In innovation, the core capability is a general ability to perceive possible worlds, and the core competence is innovation brokerage, which means the ability to create worlds for intellectual cross-pollination.
  • Organisations’ personnel hold vast potential for innovation, and each member of staff should have a dual role: to produce a product or service, and to continually consider how it could be made better; organisations should not be left as black boxes of innovation policy – the innovation capabilities of the employment sector should be developed with a concrete set of tools.
  • Innovations are primarily created in practical contexts, using a variety of different sources of information and leading to solution-oriented processes; development activity is characteristically market and customer driven.
  • Not everything has to be done in-house; innovation is largely about searching for luck in technologies, an activity that is supported with innovation policy that serves networks – at its core, it is about scanning for technological and market signals and absorbing them in businesses.
  • One key aspect is the creation of piloting and development environments which are based on heterogeneity in knowledge production; in these environments, the customer is a subject of innovation, not an object.
  • Institutions of higher education have integrated practice-based innovation as part of their operations and committed to its principles through their networked operating model
  • The innovation model is developed based on the ’smart specialisation’ framework of reference.

The Lahti region’s R&D profile has been significantly influenced by the lack of state-owned research organisations compared with many other major urban areas. RDI expenditure per capita is significantly lower than the national average. Despite this, the number of innovations generated in the region compared with the RDI expenditure is among the highest in Finland. The three competence focus areas of Lahti are:

  • Environment
  • Design
  • Practice-based innovation.

LUAS is committed to strengthening the region’s competitiveness and vitality in accordance with the growth agreement proposal drawn up by the region’s municipalities and the Finnish state and to the implementation of the Innovative Cities 2014–2020 programme in the Lahti region. In the future, our operations will focus on diversity campus (Niemi), which includes the Lahti University Consortium and various development companies and businesses. The Niemi Campus will provide authentic development and learning environments, which will connect regional operators e.g. HEIs and international partners to knowledge alliances. It strengthens innovation capacity and fosters innovation in higher education, business and the broader socio-economic environment. It is transnational, structured and result-driven campus, notably between HEIs and business to develop new, innovative and multidisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning; to stimulate entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills of students, academic and company staff; and to facilitate the exchange, flow and co-creation of knowledge.

The learning environments are physical and/or functional areas which are created with consideration of the focus areas and profiles and by applying the principles of intellectual cross-pollination and the Living Lab. They provide a collaboration environment where new kinds of concrete opportunities for cooperation can be identified and implemented, such as Interaction Design Environment – IDE!, EcoMill, the House of Design, Fellmannia, Lahti Future Lab and ISKU R&D Center.

The Lahti innovation ecosystem utilizes many innovative tools, processes and concepts. Here also the practice-based piloting ideology has been utilized and the iterative development has been ongoing while they have been in use. In order to achieve the HEIs’s third mission, and to participate into the regional development (Mora et al 2010), and to become a proactive actor of the knowledge-based learning region, HEIs need to further develop co-operation with private, public and third sector stakeholders. One possibility is to build shared learning environments, innovation ecosystems. Traditionally, universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS) have offered separate learning environments for theoretical and practical studies. Today’s challenge has been to bridge this gap and enhance the interface between universities and workplaces.

The new mode of collaboration can be started by answering the following questions: What new operations should be created and emphasised, and what old operations should be reduced and eliminated (Kim & Mauborgne 2005, 52). True collaboration is a long term process which takes place both on organizational and on individual levels. Organisations, HEIs and world of work, set up common goals. The implementation of these goals ensues in the interaction between people: teachers, students, employees and entrepreneurs. This demands interactive meetings, skill to conduct dialogical communication, creation of mutual language and understanding, joint agreements, participatory change management, and shared resource. In addition, partnership requires change in organisational culture, where interaction and diversity are enabled and where multidisciplinarity, flexibility and sensitivity occur. (e.g. Häggman-Laitila & Rekola 2011.)

The aim of this article was to examine elements that occur in collaboration between higher education and world of work. Even though, the results of this case study cannot be generalised, the article gives insight into the co-operation between HEIs and world of work from the knowledge alliances` and future campuses, perspective.


Ilkka Väänänen, Research Director, PhD, Lahti University of Applied Sciences, ilkka.vaananen@lamk.fi

Biemans, H., Nieuwenhuis, L. Poell, R., Mulder, M. & Wesselink, R. (2004). Competence-based VET in the Netherlands: Background and pitfalls. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 56 (4): 523-538

Häggman-Laitila, A. & Rekola, L. (2011b). Partnership between higher education and working life – Developing an action model through action research. Refereed Academic Paper. Innovations for Competence Management Conference 19-21.5.2011 Lahti, Finland. http://pro.phkk.fi/kit/articles/Haggman-Laitila_Rekola_article.pdf. Read 24.03.2013.

Jongbloed, B., Enders, J. & Salerno, C. (2008).Higher education and its communities: Interconnections, interdependencies and a research agenda. Higher Education,56: 303–324.

Kim, W.C. & Mauborgne, R. (2005). Blue Ocean Strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. (p. 52). USA: Harward Business School Press.

Mora, J.-G, Detmer, A. & Vieira, M.-J. (eds.) (2010). Good Practices in University-Enterprise Partnerships GOODUEP.

OECD. (2007). Higher education and regions: Globally competitive, locally engaged. Paris: OECD.

Wesselink, R., de Jong, C. & Biemans, H.J.A. (2010). Aspects of Competence-Based Education as Footholds to Improve the Connectivity between Learning in Schools and in the Workplace. Vocations and Learning, 3 (3): 19 – 38.

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