Think tanks and universities resources

3 December 2015
Articles and resources on the relationship between think tanks and universities.

The following posts offer insight into the relationship between think tanks and universities. It can be read alongside the think tanks and universities series. It was edited by Daniel Boyco:


Think tanks and universities

The demands of proving ‘impact’ might tempt academics to work separately from think tanks, but a collaborative relationship between the two will yield the most productive results.

This article by Enrique Mendizabal describes how the work of universities and think tanks can complement each other. Production of knowledge by universities, guaranteed by their academic rigor, can be matched by think tank’s flexibility and ability to disseminate research and reach out to political spheres. However, this relationship is sometimes hardened by the fact both institutions have to apply to the same sources of funding, creating an atmosphere of competitiveness instead of collaboration.

Think Tanks and Universities: not just a communications’ partnership

This post uses the presents the idea of using the case of Institute of Development Studies as a possibility for a new form of think tank – university partnership. Although based at the University of Sussex, IDS does not belong to the university, but instead pays a fee to be able to operate on its grounds. This guarantees its independence while still creating common spaces between the two organisations. The post adds on this reflection by suggesting a ‘win-win’ model, where the university could fund the think tank, while maintaining its independence.

Think Tanks and Universities: Practical Considerations

This post by Hans Gutbrod reflects on the practical side of the relationship between universities and think tanks. It offers insight into the opportunities and challenges for think tanks in sharing physical space with universities. Opportunities listed include financial benefits (rent), as well as intellectual (acknowledging and participating on-going debates) and practical (access to resources as a library). Among the challenges, there is the risk of losing independence and agility, as university practices and culture, which are guarantee academic rigor but don’t ease dissemination and impact, may be absorbed by the think tank.

Think tanks and universities: what, why and how?

This post by the Elcano Royal Institute seeks to examine what spaces exist between think tanks and traditional universities and how these would explain dynamics of competitiveness and collaboration between them. It draws mainly from the Spanish experience, but also talks about the relationship between these two types of institutions in general.

A new idea: do not fund think tanks

This post argues that, to strengthen think tanks in developing countries, there are more options available than simply allocating more funds to them. These include strengthening the academic sector (as think tanks need it for the production of knowledge), as well as the political sector (in which think tanks operate) and the private sector (which can provide a surplus of wealth that think tanks can use).

Report: Think Tank and University Relationships: Finding the Synergies

This is a report on a workshop conducted by the Think Tank Initiative on the relationship between think tanks and universities. Among its key findings, we find that there is a complex relationship that involves diverse social, economic, cultural, and political dimensions, where most collaborations are informal (between individual researchers).

UK think tanks look to achieve influence first and foremost with academic partners

This article by Hartwig Pautz discusses the findings of an e-survey on think tanks’ most important communication and cooperation partners. It states that academics are the first group thinktankers usually communicate with to achieve influence (followed by journalists and other think tanks).

A case for funding university-based/linked think tanks: more and better staff for others

This post uses the example of Peru’s Centro de Investigación de la Universidad del Pacífico, a university-based think tank, to present the benefits of this model can have on the training of personnel for think tanks in general, as it offers the opportunity for recent graduates to work and learn after university.

Understanding Think Tank-University Relationships in the Global South.

This is the final report of a project supported by the Think Tank Initiative on the relationship between Think Tanks and Universities. The project included specific studies of this relationship in three regions of the world: Latin America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. This report draws general conclusions of all of them.

Más Saber América Latina

This Project conducted by Ecuador’s Grupo FARO and Chile’s Centro de Políticas Comparadas de Educación(a research centre from the Diego Portales University) seeks to generate and share learning experiences in order to strengthen the relationship between Latin America’s think tanks and universities. The project produced a final report (in English) commenting on its main findings.

Think Tanks and universities in Latin America

This post by Adolfo Garcé describes how the emergence of think tanks in the last two decades can be linked to a much wider global process where research in general is shifting from a disciplinary, auto-contained, hierarquical model of science, to a trans-disciplinary, open and horizontal model. He goes on to describe how this process has occurred in Latin America with the proliferation of university institutions that can be identified as think tanks.

Potenciando universidades y think tanks en América Latina: El caso de Chile (in Spanish)

This document presented by FLACSO-Chile describes a study on Chilean think tanks and their relationships with universities, for which interviews were conducted with thinktankers from Corporación de Estudios para Latinoamérica (CIEPLAN)Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP)Libertad y Desarrollo (LyD), and Fundación Chile 21 (CH21). The main findings are that links between think tanks and universities are scarce and of low intensity, and mainly reside in individual initiatives.

Think tanks in sub-Saharan Africa: How the political landscape has influenced their origins

This document by the Overseas Development Institute explores the origins of think tanks in Sub-Saharan Africa. On page 7, a section can be found on the role of universities in their conception. It describes the relationship between intellectuals and the military regimes that followed independence movements, which limited support to universities, making them mostly reliant of foreign donations, affecting and limiting the conception of think tanks.

Think tanks-University Relations in Sub-Saharan Africa

This is a synthesis report on a study on the relationship between think tanks and universities in 10 Sub-Saharan African countries. It seeks to answer what type of relationship exists between these two institutions in the region. It also produced an executive summary.

Protecting the Space for Policy Research: Comparing Think Tanks and Universities in South Asia

This study by Geof Wood aims to study how the fragility of the proliferating non-governmental organisations and think tanks in South Asia can threaten these same institutions by comparing them to how universities work in developing policy research on the region.

Making ‘Impact Factor’ Impactful: Think Tanks, Universities and Policy Research in Pakistan

This study by Sustainable Development Policy Institute, written by Arif Naveed and Abid Q. Suleri, explores the relationship dynamics of think tanks and universities in Pakistan, stating that it can fluctuate between cooperation, competition and sometimes disassociation.