Knowledge transfer profiles in German academia

In the past thirty years, the understanding, structures and mechanisms of knowledge transfer have changed significantly. Coming from a traditional, mainly unidirectional-linear transfer, which focuses on industry co-operations as well as marketing and commercialization of research results through contract research, patents and spin-offs, a broader understanding of transfer comes into focus. This modern and broader concept of knowledge transfer tries to capture the social contribution of universities including the transfer to civil society as a whole. The emergence of the knowledge society, and the associated expansion of universities has massively increased society's interest in scientifically sound knowledge and thus promoted an increasing entanglement of science and society. Ultimately, this has not only led to a social upgrading of universities per se, but also to an intensification and diversification of exchange relationships between universities on the one hand and non-scientific actors on the other. Therefore, the WIDEN project aims at a holistic and broad-based analysis of knowledge transfer at different levels of the German higher education system. The project addresses the research question of which knowledge transfer profiles prevail among universities and universities of applied sciences as well as among individual scientists and how these profiles influence each other.

The research project is a joint project of Fraunhofer ISI, the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer and the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences Gelsenkirchen, Bocholt, Recklinghausen. The network thus combines partners from universities, universities of applied science and non-university research.

The main contributions of this project to science and university research are a complete measurement of knowledge transfer, its forms and manifestations, both at university and individual level. The system-wide analysis also enables a comparative analysis of transfer profiles, for example depending on the type of university or discipline.

On the basis, of a multi-level model, the existing transfer profiles, consisting of transfer understanding, transfer mechanisms or channels, transfer contents and transfer partners, are to be identified and linked at the level of universities (meso) and at the level of individual scientists (micro). Conceptually, an explorative investigation approach is pursued, in which the organizational and individual transfer profiles are determined inductively on the basis of the collected data and findings.

In the project, a survey of professors at 59 public German universities determined which forms of transfer exist in various scientific disciplines. Such a broad survey is new worldwide.

A sample of about 2250 valid responses could be evaluated. The results showed that the transfer profiles differed significantly in within the disciplines. Three large groups of disciplines emerged from a transfer perspective:

  1. Technically oriented disciplines (engineering sciences, computer science, technical natural and life sciences, agricultural sciences and medicine).
  2. Society-oriented disciplines (social sciences, economics, law, education, sports sciences, and art sciences)
  3. Disciplines with relatively strong focus on basic research (humanities, basic natural and life sciences)

Since in fields 1 and 2 there are already close contacts with society in research, the transfer of knowledge is more intensive here than in field 3.

The results of the survey provide valuable implications as to how barriers to knowledge transfer can be removed and how support from university management can be improved.

Schmoch, U.; Berghäuser, H.; Heyen, N.; unter Mitarbeit von Barkowski, F., Beyersdorf, J.; Eglin, T.; Komaromi, P.; Stephan, M. (2023): Auswertung der Umfrage unter Professorinnen und Professoren deutscher Universitäten zum Wissenstransfer. Zwischenbericht zum Projekt Wissenstransferprofile Im Deutschen Hochschulwesen (WIDEN), Projekt im Auftrag des BMBF (Förderkennzeichen 16WIT016A).  Karlsruhe: Fraunhofer ISI.