Unraveling the meanings of ‘impact’: Perspectives from academic profession and good practices of knowledge exchange

Year: 2019

Author: Tang, Hei-hang, Hayes

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper examines the notion of ‘impact’ of higher education from the perspectives of academic profession. It explores the factors which motivate academic professionals to engage in knowledge exchange and investigates the elements constituting good practice of knowledge exchange. The paper focuses on understanding how academics of different disciplines understand the notion of 'impact' of knowledge exchange activities and their relationship with the public mission of higher education. Empirical data from this study will enhance our understanding about how the professional works of knowledge exchange, research and teaching are coordinated, prioritised and integrated. This paper uses the concepts related to differentiation and integration of the academic profession (Burton Clark 1987) and 'relevant academy' (William Cummings and Ulrich Teichler 2014) to make sense of the qualitative data.

Using Hong Kong's academic profession as an empirical example, this paper employs qualitative interviewing as the main research method to probe the widest range of possible attitudes, interpretations and emergent themes. Semi-structured interviews (Johnson & Christensen, 2000; Rossman & Rallis, 2003) will be conducted with 15 award-winning academics from different academic disciplines to investigate their values, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and aspirations towards the professional activities of knowledge exchange. By mapping the diverse patterns of how they organise their professional lives, the interview data can offer 'thick descriptions' (Geertz 2003) which adequately portray the complex layers of engagement in knowledge exchange and yield some rich portraits of diversity about good practices of knowledge exchange facing the global trend of university entrepreneurialism and public accountability.

This research found that despite the ‘entrepreneurial’ nature of knowledge exchange activities, it is of importance to differentiate commercial knowledge transfer from community engagement which does not hold the intention of generating financial income. These two categories of knowledge exchange construct the Janus face of university’s third mission which involves a diversity of responses and tensions among academic professionals, ranging from enthusiasm to skepticism about whether such activities should be considered as scholarly endeavours. Despite the fact that convergences of policies and practices are prevalent across many higher education trends, more dynamic, diverse and democratic patterns are observed in the individual academics' response to the global trend of knowledge exchange. Findings of this research can inform policy innovation of knowledge exchange which sustains a meaningful balance between teaching, research and knowledge exchange among the university missions.