The pursuit of academic excellence and business engagement: is it irreconcilable?

D’Este, P.; Tang, P.; Mahdi, S.; Neely, A. and Sánchez-Barrioluengo, M.

Universities currently need to satisfy the demands of different audiences. In light of the increasing policy emphasis on ‘‘third mission’’ activities, universities are attempting to incorporate these into their traditional missions of teaching and research.

University strategies to accomplishing its traditional missions are well-honed and routinized, but the incorporation of the third mission is posing important strategic and managerial challenges for universities. This study explores the relationship between university–business collaborations and academic excellence in order to examine the extent to which academic institutions can balance these objectives. Based on data from the UK Research Assessment Exercise 2001 at the level of the university department, we find no systematic positive or negative relationship between scientific excellence and engagement with industry. Across the disciplinary fields reported in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (i.e. engineering, hard sciences, biomedicine, social sciences and the humanities) the relationship between academic excellence and engagement with business is largely contingent on the institutional context of the university department. This paper adds to the growing body of literature on university engagement with business by examining this activity for the social sciences and the humanities. Our findings have important implications for the strategic management of university departments and for higher education policy related to measuring the performance of

higher education research institutions.