UK universities have failed to encourage academics to engage with businesses and the community in so-called third stream activity, a series of candid interviews has revealed.
Lecturers felt that teaching and research were much higher priorities and that third stream activities could even hinder their careers, the study found, despite claims of equality made in university mission statements.
Asked about third stream activities – which can include commercialising research, consultancy services and licensing innovations – one lecturer at a Russell Group university said: “Never heard of it, if I am honest. I’m not sure it has a role within our faculty.”
“In theory it sounds good, never heard of it happening,” added a senior lecturer at a post-92 university.
The head of a school at a Russell Group institution said: “For me it’s a real mop-up default, it’s not particularly core to what we do. If your research doesn’t hit at least three star we will sack you.”
“There is no route to enhance your career, there is no clear progression of employment and there is no reward,” said one Russell Group senior lecturer.
Drawing on 27 anonymous interviews with academics and managers, the study by University of Sunderland researchers Derek Watson and Lynne Hall found that academic faculty believed that managers saw third stream activities as a “distraction”.
They also believed their universities had failed to communicate and monitor their third stream strategies, according to “Addressing the elephant in the room: are universities committed to the third stream agenda”, published in the International Journal of Academic Research in Management.
However, many managers said that the agenda had been a success. One pro vice-chancellor insisted that third stream activities were more important than ever, and were “interwoven” with teaching and research into a “helix” of priorities.
But others worried that their academics were not commercially competent, and could embarrass the university. “Got to accept it, academics are not always the best people to go outside [and speak to businesses],” said one dean.
Others said that academics did not have enough time. “Ask the sort of the run of the mill academic one thing I suspect they will turn around and say is that they are work loaded for teaching,” said one associate dean. “So balancing work loading is the challenge.”