Regional Actor or Centre of Excellence?

The economic concept of a triple helix was developed during the 1990s and illustrates how the post-industrial, knowledge driven economy depends on collaboration between universities, the business sector and public actors. Seen from a regional development perspective, direct access to universities and other producers of knowledge and a highly educated workforce are crucial preconditions for economic growth. In this issue of Nordregio News, we take a closer look at the interplay between higher education and regional development.

Besides traditional research and education activities, the so called third role of universities has evolved. The third role includes a broad palette of functions ranging from informal contacts between universities and society, to more direct transfers of knowledge and commissioned research activities.

Despite this evolution, the role and impact of regional universities remains under debate. Does knowledge driven development necessarily imply direct face to face access to researchers and universities, or do development and innovation processes take place in networks where modern communication technology compensate for long distances?

Another common question is whether the more traditional and basic research and education activities are being overshadowed by the third role. In the case of small, regional universities, this can result in lower research performance and quality, compared to bigger and more traditional institutions.

These questions are discussed in this issue of Nordregio News. In the first article, The Roles of Universities in Regional Development, Maria Lindqvist gives an overview of the changing roles and expectations for higher education institutions. Evidence based knowledge about the third role of universities and the direct regional impact is limited. Here, a recent Nordregio study contributes new knowledge to the discussion.

One of the case studies carried out for this study was based on Region Värmland and Karlstad University. In the second article, Regional Collaboration in Värmland Anders Olsson and Håkan Spjuth write about how a shared responsibility for regional development has resulted in new cluster strategies and a number of 'third role' activities.

At national level, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has focussed on enhancing the engagement of regional universities in local and regional development during the past decade. At the same time, it has worked to balance this function with the need to develop existing research environments into more internationally competitive entities. In the final article The Interplay Between Higher Education and Regional Policy: Perspectives from Norway, Lise Smed Olsen looks deeper into this balance.

We hope that this issue of Nordregio News will contribute to the ongoing discussion on the role of universities and other higher education institutions in a regional development perspective.

Ole Damsgaard

and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 2, 2012