No. 36




Impact of universities on the development of society and economy in the context of a small country *

07 December 2017


RiTo No. 36, 2017

  • Kadri Ukrainski

    Kadri Ukrainski

    Professor in Research and Innovation Policy, University of Tartu

  • Hanna Kanep

    Hanna Kanep

    Executive Secretary, Universities Estonia

  • Kadi Timpmann

    Kadi Timpmann

    Assistant of Public Sector Economics, University of Tartu

  • Diana Eerma

    Diana Eerma

    Associate Professor in Economic Policy, University of Tartu

The broader purpose of the article is to analyse various methodological approaches on how to assess the comprehensive impact of universities on economy quantitatively or semi-quantitatively. Earlier studies conducted all over the world, implemented practices and recommendations of international organisations are used as a basis.

The article explains how universities influence the society from the point of view of a small country. The impact of universities on the development of economy and society is expressed both in the direct and indirect impact of the research and education provided by the universities, and in the specific results and impact regarding the individuals, the community and the society as a whole. The universities make a direct contribution to economic, social, human and environmental capital.

The assessments of the extent of the impact have been used for different purposes – for performing the reporting obligation, and also for analysing and dividing of resources, and for changing of behaviour and attitude. There are different methods for assessing the impact, but often the “input→activity→output→(distribution)” type of analyses prevail in the impact analyses of the universities, and in the case of the state and the funders, “implementation→result→impact” type of analyses dominate.

The main channels of impact differ greatly by fields of research. All fields of research contribute to increasing the capabilities of people through education in the same way, but the contribution of natural and technical sciences is more important to the development of economy and services, and the contribution of medicine to health and welfare. Agricultural sciences contribute more to the shaping of environment, social sciences to the shaping of policies and the implementation of regulations, and the humanities to the society and to international activities. The above-mentioned channels seem to be self-evident, but in assessing the specific impact in these channels, the authors recommend to define and set out the impact of instruction and training activities more than it has been done so far, and also to use the assessment of universities as economic units more in order to comprehend the direct contribution of universities as economic actors to knowledge-based economy, including the export. On the basis of these analyses, it is possible to draw the attention of policy-shapers and the society to the diversity of impact channels, with the aim of using the universities better than it has been done so far as instruments of economic and societal development.

* This article was written as a result of the project “The Impact of Universities on the Development of Economy: Setting the Initial Task and Development of Methodology”, financed from the development fund of the University of Tartu.