18. October 2021 | Magazine:

At the interface between science and practice in the world of work The Cooperation Centre Hochschulen-Gewerkschaften SüdOstNiedersachsen (Universities-Trade Unions South-East Lower Saxony)

Besides research and teaching, knowledge transfer is one of the important tasks of universities and a focal point of the work of the Cooperation Centre for Universities and Trade Unions. Dr. Britta Wittner, research associate at the cooperation centre, offers a look behind the scenes.

Mrs Wittner, what exactly is the Cooperation Centre for Universities and Trade Unions?

The cooperation centre was founded as a project in Braunschweig in 1996. Since 1999 it has been established as an institution at TU Braunschweig. The focus of our work here is called ‘The Future of Work’. In terms of content, this topic fits very well with the topics at TU Braunschweig as well as with the other universities of the cooperation centre. For example, the TU Clausthal, the Ostfalia or the HBK Braunschweig.

Knowledge transfer is a focus of your work. What interfaces are there and how can the cooperation centre support knowledge transfer at TU Braunschweig?

For a long time, the focus of many universities was on technology transfer, i.e. the exchange of technological knowledge. But knowledge transfer is much more! In the meantime, Third Mission has established itself as a third field of action for many universities, alongside research and teaching. This knowledge transfer was already the core task of the cooperation centres before it was called like that. Our goal here is to be an interface between universities and trade unions. Because knowledge transfer must not only be seen as technology transfer.

Networking with employers is not enough to achieve socio-political change with research results. Employees must also be directly involved. The cooperation centres organise the dialogue between science and the world of work so that both sides can learn and benefit from each other. This works by transferring current research results to the world of work on the one hand and ensuring that the interests and problems of employees are given greater attention in science on the other hand.

Cooperation between universities and trade unions can, for example, contribute to offering further education and training courses that meet demand, to shaping innovation and transfer in a way that is in the interests of good work, and to advancing public life in the region. In this way, networking between science and civil society can be strengthened on many levels.

One of your goals is to promote and strengthen networking and cooperation opportunities between science and the world of work. How do you approach this goal?

In the region, the universities and companies fit together very well in terms of content. This means that similar topics are important in companies and research. Social-ecological transformation, for example, plays just as important a role in practice as the future of large-scale industry and the automotive sector in the region. These focal points are also reflected in the research areas of mobility and the city of the future at TU Braunschweig. We keep an eye on developments on both sides, connect them with each other and help to establish networks.

For researchers, it is also exciting that we can quickly gain access to companies and organisations and that we are happy to arrange for speakers from trade unions on current issues. We also provide support when researchers want to become experts for trade unions.

To make this a bit more vivid, we always like to tell about our typical tasks: We are often in consultation with trade unions and universities. Often, both sides already approach us with issues. Nevertheless, we always keep our eyes open, stay informed and look at what is important in the region, in the companies and at TU Braunschweig. We organise events with everything that goes with it: finding people from science who fit thematically, inviting them, planning the (digital) implementation and often moderating them ourselves. We are also involved in research. Be it by supporting applications, sitting on advisory boards or contributing our own content-related and methodological expertise.

What does ideal cooperation look like for you as a cooperation centre, especially at a technical university, and what goals would you like to achieve with your work at TU Braunschweig?

What the ideal cooperation looks like is very, very different. We do not determine that ourselves, but it is decided by the people we bring together. When it comes to knowledge exchange, discussion rounds, lectures or round tables can be useful. When it comes to research topics and projects, the joint conception must also be taken into account so that practical, empirical results can be produced later.

As concepts on the topic of Third Mission and science communication become more and more innovative, we talk to people in an interview project at TU Braunschweig, TU Clausthal and Ostfalia as well as in the trade unions about what formats they would like to see and how they themselves would like to shape collaboration.