2.1 Managing the societal engagement and impact

Auditeringsgruppens bedömning

Societal engagement is part of UEF’s strategy and organisational cultue

The audit team noticed several positive things in societal engagement and impact at the audit visit, which UEF is performing well. There is a strong focus on societal impact in UEF’s organisational culture and strategy. The rectorate leads work on the impact of the university and underlines that the university has raised societal engagement in the strategy. UEF has an overall strategy with a multidisciplinary focus and profile areas on future challenges. Four profile areas and three strategic programmes build up the strategy. The implementation of the strategy is supported by the university’s own funding.

The recently recruited director of impact is a great initiative of the university. However, this role is new and still needs further enhancement and clear objectives both internally and externally. The audit team recommends that the work of the director of impact should connect better with the academic leadership and strategic management.

The audit team notices that the indicators for societal engagement and impact are lacking, which restricts the quality system from functioning optimally on societal engagement. The university is aware of this lack, and the new director of impact is actively working to remedy this situation.


UEF has strong focus on sustainability and multidisciplinary

The audit team was delighted to see the strong focus on sustainability of the UEF Strategy 2030. Impact is measured on how research responds to the sustainability goals of the United Nations. The response has been good on climate action, health, and well-being. There are impressive initiatives such as the mostly online bachelor programme of sustainability. There are climate goals for 2025 for both education provision and research, and in view of this, climate goals are also understood as part of the university’s goals for societal engagement. However, the audit team finds that communications on sustainability achievements and figures on outcomes are needed for an even stronger societal impact. Therefore, the audit team recommends that the achievements are communicated more clearly internally and externally. The university should also celebrate achievements of climate goals accordingly.

The UEF Strategy 2030 also focuses on a multidisciplinary approach. Based on the audit visit, multidisciplinary is well manifested through the research communities and well known throughout the university. There are structured ways of cooperation between different programmes and schools. The same applies to cooperation between the two campuses in Joensuu and Kuopio. According to the interviews of the audit visit, there is a strong engagement of the staff to the multidisciplinary approach and strategy (see also Chapter 1.1). Multidisciplinary is supported by the funding system and staff. In the audit visit, impact was defined broadly for a multi-disciplinary university, both by the rectors and other, especially senior staff. The audit team considers this approach as a strength. The audit team encourages the university to communicate this approach in a clearer way. With a broad definition of impact, a more complex pallet of goals and indicators may be allowed, leading to even better results.

During the audit visit, it become clear that leadership is working towards goals of societal impact. However, the audit team did not observe a clear management system leading this work. To facilitate the development of societal engagement, the audit team recommends paying attention to how societal impact is manifested and measured as well as implementing clear objectives for both the societal impact and the work leading towards it. UEF should access new regional or international partnerships with stakeholder groups targeting a similar mission. It is vital to understand how the university is perceived both internally and externally, as this is an important attractiveness factor and a means also of student retention.


UEF has a strong positive regional impact

The importance of the university in the local community was paramount in many interviewee’s responses during the audit visit. From the discussion with stakeholders, it was evident that UEF has strong ties to the local community. UEF is regarded as a strategic partner and a broad spectrum of activities were addressed at the audit visit, such as extensive research collaboration, use of infrastructure, internships and visiting teachers. In vision of the Research Infrastructure Programme 2021-2024 collaboration with strategic partners is highlighted. It is obvious to the audit team that UEF recognises its role and responsibility in the local region in an excellent way.

In the interview with stakeholders, easy communication with an informal attitude and personal connections were emphasised and praised. At the same time, external stakeholders asked for more focus on implementation and regular meetings. The audit team proposes to think about more formalised and transparent paths for collaboration and partnerships. Informal connections, local networks, and the assumption the everybody knows each other is a huge strength but could exclude less-known partnership possibilities. The co-operation between local actors could thus be further systematised and fostered in a more structured way, so that it could grow into its full potential. It is also a risk that collaborations can become too dependent on personal connection. As an example given by an external stakeholder in the interview, all collaborators have close ties to the university. They reported that it was not clear how to initiate interactions and collaborations without personal connections.

A participatory approach towards the local community and enterprises creates both a strong commitment and a strong impact and is therefore a regional development issue. However, the co-operation between local actors could be further systematised and fostered in a more structured way, so that it could grow into its full potential. The audit team thus recommends that the processes of becoming a partner could be more formalized.

A very good way of nurturing ties and a fruitful relationship with the industry in the region and beyond are UEF’s so-called shared doctoral positions that allow the university and the industry to share the cost of an early-stage researcher’s salary. For the doctoral researcher they are important windows to gain experience and form relations to the industry relevant to his or her research topic.