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Higher education institutions as drivers of regional development

This study explores how universities and university colleges can best work as instruments of regional development. Higher education institutions have been allotted an important role in the development of the knowledge-based economy, which itself is an important objective of the EUs Lisbon strategy. Nordregio Working Paper 2009:3

This role implies both the provision of education and the conduction of research. Higher education institutions across the Nordic countries have, in addition, also been assigned the so-called 3rd-task of entering into cooperation with the surrounding society.

The direct effects a university may have on regional development and the surrounding business environment are hard to prove by quantitative means alone. Instead, this aspect is displayed by illustrating how universities work as instruments of regional development through education, research and cooperation with the surrounding society. The case studies reproduced in the context of this report cover Aalborg University in Denmark, Oulu Southern Institute in Finland, the School for Renewable Energy Science (RES) in Akureyri, Iceland, the University of Agder in Norway and Dalarna and Jönköping Universities in Sweden.

From the case studies it is clear that higher education institutions have an important role to play in respect of regional development. By, for instance, offering education to the workforce that matches the needs of employers in the region their regional impact may be enhanced. Secondly, higher education institutions can provide the public and private sector in the region with research which contributes to the development of a knowledge-based economy. Finally, higher education institutions can also be used to promote entrepreneurship, by offering entrepreneurship programmes and establishing science parks, including incubators, where new companies can be developed. In the context of this study a numbe of good practice examples are highlighted which may be considered when discussing how universities can best be used to further regional development.