"Universities could play a stronger role in the economic, cultural and social development of their regions, according to a new OECD report. Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged argues that regional engagement by universities is beneficial both to local development and the institutions themselves.
The report is the outcome of a three-year study by the OECD’s Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE) and the Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate. Drawing on reviews of 14 regions in 12 countries as well as OECD territorial reviews, it offers findings that can be usefully applied by national and regional governments and higher education institutions. Among the conclusions of the study is that the potential of higher education institutions to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of their regions is far from being fully realised.
For example, it is estimated that only 10% of UK firms currently interact with universities. Most university-industry links focus on big business and a few hi-tech fields. At the same time, services account for 70% of the OECD workforce and cultural industries are becoming a major driver globally, accounting for 7% of GDP and growing at 10% annually. The report analyses the barriers to improvement, and suggests that universities should adopt a wide agenda of regional development – economic, social or cultural. It recommends that greater autonomy and better incentives be given to institutions and their staff to engage with small and medium-sized business. It also recommends that countries should provide a more supportive environment for university-enterprise co-operation including regulatory and tax environment.
The report suggests that instead of focusing on the supply-side of knowledge transfer, countries should develop business demand for university interaction. Universities themselves should become more entrepreneurial, widen their service portfolio and address the needs of wider range of firms and employers.
The report emphasises the importance of “knowledge transfer on legs” – i.e. the students and graduates who can be one of the most effective mechanisms for knowledge transfer. Innovation is not only a national matter. Globalisation has brought along with it a “death of distance” which in principle enables any place with an internet connection to participate in the knowledge economy. Nevertheless, proximity plays a role and innovation continues to cluster around regions with vibrant communities, skilled people and universities. Higher education institutions are an underexploited link to the global knowledge economy and can provide gateways to the private sector".