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From policy to practice: engaging and embedding the third mission in contemporary universities

Jen Nelles (Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
Tim Vorley (Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 27 July 2010




Over the past 20 years public policy has sought to promote and formalise the socio‐economic role of universities under the auspices of the so called “third mission”. The purpose of this paper is to consider how the third mission relates to, and has the capacity to reinforce the core missions of teaching and research.


By highlighting the key limitations of contemporary debate the paper bridges the conceptual model/case‐study dichotomy that characterises the literature. The paper draws on an ongoing study of higher education institutions in the UK and Europe.


The paper contends that triangulating teaching, research, and third stream activities reinforces the respective dynamics of each component through their recursive and reciprocal development.

Research limitations/implications

The paper forms the foundations of a de novo research agenda to better understand the dynamics of the third mission as a central facet of the contemporary university.

Practical implications

The paper has implications for policy‐makers and institutional strategy alike – identifying an unparalleled opportunity for institutional development by linking teaching, research, and third stream activities.


By highlighting the importance that universities need to embody an “inherent idea” the paper contends the third mission presents the capacity for institutional development beyond the third mission.



Nelles, J. and Vorley, T. (2010), "From policy to practice: engaging and embedding the third mission in contemporary universities", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 30 No. 7/8, pp. 341-353.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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