Promoting academic engagement in regions: How individual and contextual factors shape engagement activities


Kwadwo Atta-Owusu
Keywords: academic engagement, regions, universities, regional engagement


The need to harness knowledge to improve the innovativeness and economic development of regions has brought the regional role of universities to the fore of academic and policy discourses. Being producers and disseminators of knowledge, policymakers and societal actors expect universities to contribute to the knowledge needs of the regions in which they are located. These include exchanging knowledge with regional partners, provision of requisite human capital for local industries as well as offering place leadership. Even though universities are located in regions, they nonetheless engage with diverse stakeholders in several activities at multiple territories. Hence, universities balance a variety of roles to provide benefits to all their stakeholders. While trying to meet the needs of their multiple stakeholders, most universities — perhaps in response to policy pressures — have developed strategies and policies aimed at deepening engagement in their regions.

Although universities, as institutions, are expected to lead regional engagement, academics remain the agents that engage with external actors in practice. Academics need to perform other work roles in addition to engaging with regional actors. These competing demands make the effective fulfilling of the regional engagement role challenging. Amidst these tensions, there is a need to understand whether and how academics engage with regional actors and the factors that influence such engagement. However, most prior studies on the topic have focused on the university and have largely ignored the individual academic. This limits understanding of the behavior of academics toward regional engagement and affects the design of effective policies. Accordingly, the overall goal of this thesis is to provide new insights on the role of individual and contextual factors in academics’ regional engagement.

This thesis is a synthesis of four papers that together contribute to answering the overall research question. It uses both quantitative and qualitative research methods to investigate regional engagement from the perspective of academics and firms in different empirical contexts. These variety of methods enrich the analyses and provide deeper insights into the phenomenon. The findings generally demonstrate that both individual and firm-related factors remain important drivers of regional engagement, while university-related factors matter less.

Specifically, individual motivations are important for the external engagement of academics. However, different motivations become more salient at specific career stages. Career motivation is more important at the early career stage, while pecuniary motivation matters most at the late career stage. Prosocial motivation remains more important at the midcareer stage. Also, the embeddedness of academics in both formal and informal social networks facilitates knowledge transfer and regional engagement. Moreover, academics’ attachment to place tends to increase their engagement activities with regional actors. However, there are some variations in the effect of place attachment and informal social networks on regional engagement between native and non-native academics. Place attachment is important for both groups, while informal social networks matter only for native academics. Furthermore, the findings show that regional firms’ knowledge strategies increase the likelihood of firms to collaborate with university partners. Lastly, the perception of organizational fairness has a limited or no effect on the external engagement of academics.

The findings from the thesis contribute primarily to the academic engagement and the university-industry collaboration literatures with new insights on the factors driving academic engagement. The study extends place attachment and organizational justice theories to explain the underlying mechanisms of the external engagement behavior of academics. Besides the theoretical contribution, the findings also provide insights to guide practitioners and policymakers in designing policies to promote regional engagement. In particular, university managers should pay attention to career development policies. Because academics’ external engagement is chiefly influenced by career motivations, rewards and incentives for external engagement should be geared towards helping academics progress in their careers. Also, policies seeking to promote university-industry collaboration should target firms more than universities. Policymakers need to provide incentives that motivate firms to develop cooperative partnerships with universities.

Author Biography

Kwadwo Atta-Owusu

University lecturer
University of Stavanger, Business School


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April 26, 2021