This article looks at third mission activities as an integral part of universities of applied sciences (UAS) and sheds light on the wide portfolio of third stream initiatives at the Austrian applied higher education sector. In a pilot study, this research explores how the sector (consisting of 21 UAS) perceives its role as an enabler for prosperity, innovation and knowledge transfer in the local areas. In addition, we sought to identify the wide range of potential rationales behind regional engagement, attempted to differentiate between concepts that primarily target the traditional roles of universities (teaching and research) and seek to integrate third mission elements (Entrepreneurial University, Triple Helix, Mode 2) with an eye on economic gains and those that foreground additional responsibilities at the tertiary level for societal purposes. In this sense, we sought to carve out to what extent institutions also engage in third mission activities predominantly for non-economic reasons (Engaged University, Regional Innovation Systems, Sustainable University). Such a differentiation may have the potential to outline the paradigms for third mission activities in a more systematic and structured way. In addition, this analysis may allow Austrian UAS to make more informed decisions along the lines of third-stream initiatives that are based on their strategic positioning and profile.
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