Voices from Experts Voices from Experts: Věra Šťastná

A spiraling staircase in blue color.

In conversation with Engagement Readiness Monitor partners, Vera St’astna offered her insights on “engagement readiness” and contributed her valuable experience on the topic.

Vera St'astna photo.

RNDr. Věra Šťastná heads the Department of Analyses and Strategies at the Rectorate of Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic) since 2008. She has long been involved in the development of higher education projects. The main responsibilities include the preparation of the main strategic materials of the university, cooperation on quality assessment of Charles University, including conceptual development of the quality assurance system/sub-systems, preparation of documents used to determine the strategy of further development of the university. She has experience in national and international cooperation and networks within the Bologna Process of European Union programs, the Council of Europe, university networks (UNICA – Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe, IUA – International Association of Universities, ACA – Academic Cooperation Association, etc.) or international projects such as EUROSTUDENT.

Image: Věra Šťastná

What does it mean for an HEI to be ready to engage?

The faculties at Charles University are better prepared for this than they think. The biggest shortcoming is the fact that the faculties themselves do not know what social relevance is. If we could define what the social impact of research is, or therefore the social relevance of research, then the faculties would be even more prepared to translate it into concrete steps. In the Czech Republic, the social relevance of research is assessed by an international panel of evaluators within the Methodology 17+. Those evaluators rebuke us that, especially in the social sciences, there is no consensus on what the social relevance of research is. The Faculty of Science or the medical faculties mentioned some contract research or projects with KTTO in the assessment, so it was relatively clear there. The faculties of social or humanities did not write anything there, because of course they do not have spin-offs and the economic impact of their activities is unclear. And they took their commitment to preparing the next generation of researchers and employees in the field. And these evaluators blamed us for this and told us to discuss it. Today the benefits and cooperation with the industry are already appreciated. And even the university is trying to rewrite these things in the principles of redistribution of funds. So cooperation with practice based on involvement in teaching, or adaptation of the curriculum, should also be reflected in performance indicators of faculty. And that’s a huge change in the university’s approach.


What are the most important resources (financial, human, physical, knowledge) that need to be available to ensure HEIs are prepared to engage with businesses and/or others?

It will probably be different in terms of industry. I can easily imagine that where quality basic research is done, there is a breeding ground for application. There is nothing to apply without quality research. I think people who engage should have social recognition. Therefore, it is important to translate this into a way of financing faculties. Even if the faculty has earned only a small amount by transfer, scientists must have social recognition for their cooperation. And training in this area is also important so that scientists know what their options are and can move forward. And good research is important for that. And it is important to rewrite it into the career structure.


What kinds of specific strategies or policies can HEIs put in place to address the willingness of management, staff, students, etc. to engage with businesses and others (e.g. mission statements, incentives for engagement, cultural strategies/policies, etc.)?

If the university wants to develop, it is necessary for people who have a view from outside to come. It would be great to support doctoral and postdoctoral students who would come to the university from abroad. And if the first of them walk the path, then more people would join in. In this way the social recognition and inclusion are essential in the conditions for career advancement.


What are the major barriers and facilitators to HEI engagement with business and other societal actors?

The traditional setting of the ideas of academics and the requirements for obtaining a higher academic degree is the most important barriers. It is hampered because I think that on top rank are articles in most institutions and academic involvement is not thought at all. If this is not there, the conservative view that it does not belong to the university will still prevail. But the new management has done a lot of work and is starting to appreciate it.

I think it must be the management of the university. They have to say to themselves that they want to support it and they have to support it.

Concerning the facilitators, it is necessary to make space for the faculties so that, for example, companies can enter the topics of diploma theses.


What are the primary motivators or drivers for HEIs to engage with businesses and/or others?

The driver may be social demand, as Covid has now shown. But those barriers are on both sides. On the part of companies and the part of schools. If a university lost its culture, it would also lose its importance. The university needs to be a little slower, more prudent and more thoughtful and guard the heritage of previous generations. The company may be a little more superficial in that. And that’s what the disrespect is about. That the academy claims that companies are only interested in profit and that companies claim that the academy is slowed down. Both of these environments have a completely different culture and that is a barrier. Therefore, it is important to incorporate practitioners into.


Is there a difference between readiness to cooperate with business and with other societal actors and education and in research?

It will be quite dependent on people, but there will be a difference. Non-academic university staff must have a perspective in this regard. So that we don’t have an economist who only sees numbers and doesn’t know what’s behind them. So that the faculty lawyer understands things in context and does not destroy every attempt at the spin-off. The readiness of the internal environment is very important. That contact with companies is mainly about personal relationships, and those relationships should be more institutionalized. It would be very helpful for the university to map these things about collaboration. Finally, very good universities have as their primary mission to do research and then teach about that research.


Blog editors: Alexandra Zinovyeva (UIIN) and Fleur Schellekens (UIIN)


Header photo by Agnieszka Cymbalak on Unsplash

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