A guest commentary by Vice-Rector Michael Quante on the new dossier “Knowledge Transfer at the University of Münster”
Universities create knowledge. Just as varied as the types of knowledge are the forms in which it is academically, scientifically, produced and acquired, deepened and developed. Individual facts, whether the results of scientific observation or of historical research, also represent a form of knowledge. The further development of theories, or their evolution in interdisciplinary collaboration are other types of scientifically or academically generated knowledge. But practical expertise, too, is of central importance. Whether it is a question of methods or equipment being used correctly, or of a start-up being set up properly, or the development of technical products – theoretical knowledge and competence are interlocking elements in acting in accordance with scientific principles.
As a university, Münster increases our knowledge on a scientific basis. At the same time, the University sees itself as an institution based in society. From this is derived the duty which it has to take on responsibility for society – by picking up on questions which society has and facing the challenges which this society brings to the door of the academic world.
Knowledge transfer plays a decisive role in dealing with these tasks. It takes place in a variety of forms within the University: the knowledge to be found in individual disciplines is transferred, across boundaries, to interdisciplinary research. At its core, teaching is also knowledge transfer. The transfer of knowledge to society – popularly seen as the third mission of academic/scientific work – consists essentially of making research results available.
The University of Münster sets an integrated concept against the reduction of “knowledge transfer” to “transfer”. The communication of scientific knowledge is a central component of all aspects of academic activity: research, teaching and transfer. Münster University uses knowledge transfer as an element common to all of these in order to combine the three aspects into one integrated concept of academic excellence. The forms it has are as varied as the types of knowledge. Whether we’re talking about spin-offs, technology transfer, new teaching methods or the publication of research results – we are always dealing with knowledge generated in a scientific fashion. The shape the transfer takes depends on the question of which knowledge is to be communicated to which target group and in which context. Research into science communication and the scientific evaluation of transfer activities therefore represent important feedback from knowledge transfer in research and teaching.
Transfer is not a one-way street. If it wants to live up to the responsibility it has towards society, science must see transfer as a dialogue with society. Münster University sees the integration of participatory elements in research and teaching as an important challenge and, at the same time, as an opportunity. It is important that questions that society has should be picked up on, and that the stores of knowledge which society has should be used. In this process, scientific methods and standards must form the basis of such participatory formats. But any involvement on the part of members of the public should certainly not be limited to simply making data available for research work.
The proper communication of scientific findings, tailored to the relevant target group, will always be the main task at the interface between university and society. However, the many forms of knowledge and the dialogical nature of knowledge transfer require and enable it to be understood in a more complex way. Th University of Münster sees a great deal of potential in the realization of an integrated concept of knowledge transfer: in research and teaching; and in the assumption of social responsibility.
Prof. Michael Quante is Vice-Rector for International Affairs and Transfer at Münster University.
Source: “wissen|leben” No. 1, February / March 2020