Adapting to the new normality: don’t forget the 3rd mission!

The project IMPALA addresses the challenges faced by the universities and the business schools in evaluating their contribution to local, regional, and national development. It promotes an impact-driven culture for all the components of the institution; from teaching activities to programme management, with the purpose to improve the quality and relevance of the services the schools provide to their community.

Key facts about the project:

  • Running since 2018 to strengthen the quality of the Latin American universities by adapting their actions to the needs of their local environment;
  • 120 stakeholders from 11 universities, the Cuban ministry of higher education and the Colombian association for business faculties attended information and capacity-building sessions;
  • 22 social projects on cultural management, local entrepreneurship and lifelong learning activities were selected for a 360° assessment of their impact and contribution to the local development.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) quickly adapt to face new challenges, embracing new technologies and teaching techniques to continue their activities when new constraints are imposed in a short time. Over the past couple of weeks, institutions from different regions have actively exchanged possible ways to continue their activities, re-discovering the principles of the digitalisation of higher education presented for the last 20 years as a solution to comply with the stay-at-home policies imposed in each country.

The future of universities and business schools will be different than what we have expected. The pandemic and the lockdown measures required all actors to profoundly re-adapt themselves to the situation. New challenges will arise again, and the institutions will have to adapt, change what was done up-to-now and improve.

All institutions should perceive this momentum as an opportunity to evaluate their preparation with regard to the upcoming regulations. In 2015, the United Nations published the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals for developed and developing countries. The 4th goal specifically addresses the higher education sector: it aims at ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and [promoting] lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The 8th goal aims to the promotion of a “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. Quality assurance and higher education national bodies have already prepared new regulations, asking all HEIs to demonstrate their contribution to local and national development[1].

Universities are linked to their environment: graduates active in the local labour market and living in the region, the cooperation with local stakeholders, the spin-offs of the entrepreneurship and creativity incubators, or even with the local museums and exhibitions run with the support of the HEIs. The structure of an HEI integrates a 3rd mission that goes beyond the teaching and research activities: it encompasses all “economic, social, cultural and political activities that exploit the capacities available in each institution (its academic configuration, location, history, organisational structure, etc.) in a way that benefits both society and itself”[2]. National bodies will regulate these 3rd mission activities to engage public and private institutions to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. Universities and business schools will have to demonstrate their quality but also now their contribution to the society with a new set of objectives, indicators and criteria.

The impact evaluation methodology proves to be a key tool. It encourages all actors to go further than a compliance-check questionnaire as they are involved in the evaluation to understand, identify and exploit all outputs, outcomes and changes caused by a single activity. Impact goes beyond the short-term cause-effect relationship: it includes the long-term consequences that could be (or not) coming from the university. The impact evaluation tools can be at first difficult to embrace. Their results can help the HEIs to better understand the needs of the economic stakeholders who are influenced by the university at local and national levels, the university’s contribution to the local growth and gender pay inequality reduction, or its action against climate change.

The publication of the results will improve the university’s communication strategy. Once evaluated, the social component of the university could be its flagship element, attracting new partners, triggering new cooperation opportunities and engaging new funds.

New directives on the SDGs will be published in the coming years, and business schools and universities will exchange on the best practices to respect these new regulations. They can already take reference on the project IMPALA – Strengthening impact of the Latin American universities – currently in place in Colombia, Cuba and Panama. This Erasmus+ project developed by EFMD and financed by the European Union aims at creating a quality referential for the impact evaluation of the 3rd mission activities, complementing the universities quality assurance mechanisms currently limited to teaching and research. This tool will assist the HEIs in improving the quality and relevance of the services they deliver to the community. In 2020, the EFMD International Projects department built on the initiative and launched the Erasmus+ project SQUARE – Strengthening the quality and relevance of the 3rd mission in Georgian universities. The results of both projects will be regularly presented to the EFMD members on social media platforms and during EFMD events.

EFMD has participated in more than 40 internationally funded projects in the fields of capacity building, quality assurance, internationalisation, impact assessment, the universities’ 3rd mission and contribution to society, gender equality, ICT for higher education and entrepreneurship. The EFMD International Projects department regularly invites business schools and universities to join new project proposals and develop new initiatives. More information about the projects and the current opportunities can be found on the EFMD website.


[1] National customisation supplement, IMPALA, 2020

[2] Marco de evaluación de impacto, IMPALA, 2019