Higher Education Policy

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 203–226 | Cite as

All that Glitters is Not Gold: the Surrogate Use of University Spin-Offs. Insights from Italy

  • Davide DonatielloEmail author
  • Alberto Gherardini
Original Article


The weak performance of Italian universities in for-profit third mission activities can be explained by taking into account different interrelated factors at national, local and individual level. The purpose of this article is to introduce and develop a specific argument: the low success and the ineffectiveness of universities’ third mission may be understandable also looking at the surrogate use through which professors and researchers exploit some third mission tools. In particular, the discussion concerns university spin-off companies, a typical for-profit tool that often can be activated for goals other than the official ones. Through three case studies carried out in three Italian universities, the article aims to shed light on actual reasons behind the engagement in a spin-off and to put the surrogate use of this tool in relation to old problems and constraints of the Italian university system.


Technology Transfer Third Mission Spin-off Academic Entrepreneurship Italian University Higher Education 


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© International Association of Universities 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Culture, Politics and SocietyUniversity of TurinTurinItaly
  2. 2.Department of Political and Social SciencesUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

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