A Portuguese Tale of Knowledge Society: Narrowing Bonds between Higher Education and the Innovation System
The narratives on the weightiness of knowledge for society’s economic and social development have been signified along the last decades through metaphors such as ‘information society’, ‘learning society’, ‘knowledge capitalism’ and ‘knowledge society’. Knowledge is celebrated as a basic economic resource in the moving of societies to a knowledge based capitalism (Olson & Peters, 2005). The political discourse in Europe in the last decades has been using knowledge society as a meta-narrative or as a governance tool to accomplish European integration and enhance its competitiveness. Amidst this context, higher education has becoming, increasingly more, a driving factor for democratizing and rising equality in societies, and consequently to stimulate economic development (Panitsidou et al., 2012). In this way, and through the establishment of the European Research Area (ERA), the Lisbon Strategy became the tangible strategy of the EU to enhance cohesion, social development and to foster economic competitiveness based in Research and Development (R&D) investment (Chou & Gornitzka, 2014). (Chou and Gornitzka, 2014, Chou and Ulnicane, 2015). In Portugal, as elsewhere, HEIs were assigned (and still hold) a key place within this new changing context in the orientation of knowledge production and dissemination. Portugal has a binary higher education system, constituted by public and private universities and polytechnics. Although higher education institutions were (HEI), since its creation, mainly centered in their teaching mission, particularly in polytechnic institutions, since the nineties, the focus has been changing to research. Research and the national scientific system is closely connected with the higher education system (Heitor and Horta, 2012), with knowledge production being mostly concentrated in universities and, among these, in the public ones (Conceição et al., 2006). In this context, HEI are considered as a privileged locus of changes framed by knowledge society providing the new epistemological, ontological and methodological logics and legitimacy basis for a new ‘political economy’ of knowledge. In fact, especially, under the Lisbon Strategy framework and the construction of a knowledge society, Portugal (similarly to other OECD countries) has been redesigning science and technology (S&T) policies in the last years. Within this framework, this study seeks to analyse the contemporary conceptions of the ‘knowledge society/economy’ in the Portuguese state policies, its impact on the relation between the higher education system and the research and development/innovation system, and in HEI narratives, missions and identities. How has Portugal changed in response to competitive pressures of the global knowledge society/economy? The paper resorts to content analysis of policy documents related to the national innovation system and on public statistics from the OECD and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. The authors conclude that the knowledge society/economy discourse promoted changes in the way HEI and society perceive their mission, emphasising increasingly more research oriented to society. Nevertheless, the Portuguese research and innovation system is still mostly concentrated within the higher education system.