Innovation in the First Mission of Universities

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Loreto Fernández
Sara Fernández
Lucía Rey
María Bobillo


There is an extensive literature on characteristics of “entrepreneurial” or “innovative” universities. As both terms have generally been used to refer to the same condition, different rankings of entrepreneurial universities use indicators universally recognized for innovative activity and primarily related to research and knowledge transfer (scholarly production, patents granted and licensed, number of firms created to exploit research results, etc.).

Innovation is essentially grounded in an entrepreneurial mentality, but an innovative university (hereafter, IU) is one that transmits this mentality to all of its members, including the foremost among its central missions: education. The IU is a university that becomes a driver of economic and social development in the region in which it is established, seeking to improve society through knowledge.

In recent years, various attempts have been made to “measure” this innovative/ entrepreneurial character in a more technical way. In a prior study, we proposed a characterization of an entrepreneurial and innovative university. Here, we build on that study to define the IU. The originality of this proposal stems from its inclusion of the so-called third and fourth missions (knowledge transfer and social responsibility, respectively) as transversal elements implicit in the university’s two central missions. In an IU, therefore, the university’s relationship with and impact on its surrounding agents are essential aspects entwined with its two basic functions.

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