2.1 Managing the societal engagement and impact

Assessment of the audit team

The University of Ljubljana is well integrated into society

As the largest university in Slovenia, the University of Ljubljana (UL) plays a pivotal role in contributing to societal reforms, specifically through its commitment to education, research, and the active promotion of third mission activities. The UL’s strategy 2022-2027 states that the university wants to be a recognised and established academic institution in Europe. Two of its five strategic objectives and related development areas address social engagement and impact. The UL strives to enhance the transfer of knowledge and the arts in all spheres of social life and the university’s social role and position in the national and global social dialogue. The strategy includes performance indicators for the strategic objectives and respective development areas. The UL has also prepared a materiality matrix where it has determined the most important challenges and goals relating to social, environmental, and economic sustainability, which the UL will address as part of its mission and strategy. The matrix that was prepared with an extensive number of stakeholders identifies the most important challenges the UL needs to address to contribute to the progress and prosperity of society. According to the self-assessment report, the UL focuses on the three pillars of societal engagement by integrating the content of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the educational process, by orienting research towards sustainable development and by placing particular emphasis on the different activities of the UL.

Based on the audit visit, the UL is well integrated into society on a local and national level. The university is enhancing its societal engagement and impact in many ways, and its interaction with society is versatile and active. The UL’s flexibility in addressing societal challenges is evident through its needs-oriented methodologies. The audit team heard about a wide array of activities initiated by different faculties, academies, university management, and units that facilitate engagement with society, demonstrating the university’s responsiveness to social needs and priorities. The multitude of activities also creates a vibrant academic and research environment, which enriches the student experience and provides numerous avenues for academic exploration and societal contribution. Special emphasis is placed on connecting the arts, sciences and social sciences and cooperation with external partners.

The university is prominently featured at various events in the city of Ljubljana, on social media, and in the media across the country on an almost daily basis. As highlighted during the audit interviews, the experts of the UL are frequently quoted and interviewed in the media, including continuous appearances in science programme broadcasts by a national television station.

With its 40,000 students and 6,500 employees, the UL has an influential role within the city of Ljubljana. A new agreement and regular meetings with the city of Ljubljana will further systematise the already active cooperation. At the national level, an agreement on strategic cooperation for technological development and innovation breakthroughs has also been signed by representatives of the government and other parties. The UL is a trusted partner in many areas such as preparing new legislation. The audit team commends all this.

In terms of the management of societal engagement and impact at the university level, the university has a vice rector of knowledge transfer, digitalisation, and sustainable development, as well as the Knowledge Transfer Office established in the previous strategy period.

Information from the operating environment has an impact on activities in the faculties

Based on the audit visit, the faculties and academies have close connections and active cooperation with external stakeholders, i.e. industry and organisations in their field. Most of the faculties have advisory boards with external stakeholders. With this interaction, the faculties and academies seem to have the ability to react to the new needs arising from industry and overall changes in their operating environment with examples especially related to the educational provision.

However, a more systematic approach to societal engagement would help the UL to be more proactive concerning the needs of society at large and as one university. With a strategic- and future-oriented analysis of changes in its operating environment the UL would be better positioned to be one step ahead. This would entail exploring issues that may not yet be on the business agenda and which may contribute to the future of the operating environment.

The UL would benefit from clearer goals and the measurement of societal engagement and impact

The annual operational planning (Annual Work Programme) with monitoring, self-assessment and reporting (Business and Quality Assurance Report) at the faculty and university levels ensure a systematic approach in terms of management, implementation and follow up of the university’s strategic objectives also linked to societal engagement and impact. There are several university-level quantitative indicators linked to the strategic objectives such as the number of newly established spin-out companies, the number of popular publications on scientific research in the general media, the number of musical productions and exhibitions carried out, the percentage of employees at the UL included in the consultative and decision-making bodies on the national and international levels, the percentage of positive media publications about the UL, the number projects in which students have been solving current social-economic issues, the number of research-development and advisory projects carried out with the business sector or other national/foreign users of knowledge etc.

On the other hand, based on the audit visit, the understanding of what societal engagement and impact meant for the UL was fragmented. Some faculties viewed societal impact narrowly, i.e. only in terms of media coverage, the measurement of reactions in the media, industry connections, or patents. It was not fully clear to the audit team how the achievements corresponded to the set goals or were based on an analysis linked to the UL’s operating environment. The audit team was exposed to a wide range of impressive activities in the faculties. It was quite clear that the university’s societal impact was much broader than its current indicators were able to demonstrate. The UL could shift its emphasis from mainly tracking activities to measuring results and impact more diligently. Except for the annual operational planning and reporting process, monitoring of the societal engagement activities was mostly left to the UL faculties and academies. The more specific goals for societal engagement and impact and a data-driven improvement of societal engagement and impact remained unclear.

Societal engagement and impact are broad concepts and thus challenging to define and measure accurately. The UL should have a clear understanding of what societal impact means for the university, as well as the more specific goals for the coming years and how to monitor the achievement of these goals. The audit team recommends that the university further develops university-wide goals for societal engagement and impact linked to activities, follow-up and measurement of activities and a stronger connection to the university-level management system. The UL is also recommended to develop and implement qualitative indicators, in addition to the quantitative ones, to assess and express its societal engagement effectively.

The collaboration with stakeholders at the faculty level should also contribute to a coherent engagement strategy for the UL, in which roles and contributions of key support units could be more clearly defined. It would be beneficial for the university to have a framework for societal engagement incentives in place. Societal engagement criteria should also be incorporated into the academic progression model, such as the habilitation process, or into the researchers’ evaluation practices.