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The paper outlines the general framework of the relationship between universities
and the social context and presents several very interesting innovative experiences.
The first part of the paper summarizes the socio-institutional context of changing
relationships between science and society in the last decades. These changes
have led to a growing emphasis on the economic role of research and higher education
organizations, but more recently there has been growing attention also towards
a broader concept of collective university value. Hence the need to redefine
the very idea of «third mission» as connected to both economic and social impact.
As a matter of fact, the collective value of universities dates back to the end of
the 18th century and has both European and Latin American origins – albeit with
differences between these two strands. Nowadays, the renewed interest in this issue
also by the European Commission suggests the need for institutional tools and
political mechanisms aimed at producing effective alignments at all levels of the
higher education system. The second part of the paper presents the contributions
collected in the monographic issue of the journal, which concern both national and
international experiences. In their concluding remarks, authors highlight currently
relevant misalignments between the individual tension of academics for forms of
research and education that are more publicly engaged and the mechanisms that
regulate higher education at institutional and systemic level.