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The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RUNIN (The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

This project addresses a core concern of policy-makers across Europe of how regions can prosper in the rapidly changing global economy. Faced with increasing competition from low-cost producers, the answer for most regions in Europe is the development of a knowledge-based economy – a strategy that is enshrined in EU strategy through the Europe 2020 agenda. The Innovation Union flagship initiative aims to create an innovation-friendly environment in Europe through making Europe a world-class science performer and revolutionising the way public and private sectors work together. This puts universities in a key role as promoters of innovation and regional development in most regions – as producers of new knowledge, of a highly skilled workforce, and as transmitters of knowledge to firms, policy-makers and the general public. In assuming this role, universities are taking on a mission to contribute to innovation and knowledge-based economic development in the regions where they are located. Universities as institutions embody the apparent contradiction that knowledge is global, but learning is local. While knowledge, at least in codified form, appears to be global, its production and transmission is often highly localised within micro-scale communities encompassing knowledge users and producers, coordinated through shared goals relating to that knowledge. Universities are increasingly representing key arenas linking local innovation and learning communities to global production and innovation networks. In this project, we focus on the various ways in which universities may strengthen the capabilities for innovation in firms and regions through providing new knowledge, building interregional networks and taking on broader developmental roles.
The work in the project is structured around ESR research projects and project-level training activities, management and networking events.

The work carried out in the research projects in the first half of the project period includes literature reviews, theory development and data collection. ESRs have collected data individually or jointly in all seven RUNIN regions, using a combination of qualitative interviews of firms, policy-makers, university management and university academics, data from documents and written sources, and quantitative data from surveys and public registers.

The first research outputs from this work have now been produced. In total, ESRs have submitted 12 articles to a special issue of Regional Studies, Regional Science and 2 articles submitted to Journal of Rural Studies. A book proposal from the project, including 7 case studies from the RUNIN regions, has been submitted to Springer. Another five book chapters have been published in two edited books. The working paper series on has published 14 papers. Work in progress has been presented at various conferences, including in special sessions at the Regional Innovation Policies conference 2017, the Geography of Innovation conference 2018, and the Triple Helix conference 2018. Results have also been communicated to a general audience through publications in the Regional Studies Association’s eZine, the University-Industry Interaction Magazine, and the European Consortium of Innovative Universities Magazine, as well as in direct reports to regional policy-makers, and on RUNIN platform including Twitter, YouTube and blog posts on the project website. Results have also been communicated directly to audiences at international events and regional outreach events in each region. Two ESRs have won prizes for research outputs produced in the project (the best early career paper award at the Triple Helix conference 2018, and the Ind+I Science Prize 2018).

The project has completed four training events so far. These have provided an overview of the relevant academic literature and research methods relevant for ESR research projects, and training in non-transferable skills including research management, presentation, communication, teamwork and interaction with policy-makers. All ESRs have also completed at least one period of secondment and have interacted closely with co-supervisors and mentors from the RUNIN network during these secondments.
The project has produced new insights in relation to various aspects of universities’ roles in innovation and regional development. This includes:

• New insights on university-firm interaction and networks
Case studies of MNE’s collaboration with regional universities, exploring co-evolution of research (Manrique 2018) and the location of university partners (Alpaydin 2018a)
Statistical studies of why firms collaborate with universities, identifying role of firms’ networking capacity (Guerrero 2018b; Atta-Owusu, Fitjar and Rodríguez-Pose 2018)
Studies of knowledge spillovers between universities and science-based firms (Saman 2018)
Typology of university-science park interactions to attract and develop talent (Cadorin, Germain-Alamartine, Bienkowska and Klofsten 2018)
• New insights on universities’ contributions to regional innovation policy
Universities’ contributions to smart specialization strategies (Fonseca 2018; Nieth, Benneworth, Charles, Fonseca, Rodrigues, Salomaa and Stienstra 2018)
Universities’ roles in regional innovation coalitions (Nieth 2018)
Participation by universities in structural funds projects (Salomaa 2018)
Participation by universities in smart city projects (Alpaydin 2018b)
• New insights on education and contributions to regional labour-markets
Statistical studies of how the establishment of a university in a peripheral region affected the regional labour market (Evers 2018)
Comparative case study of how university relations to science parks promote transferable skills training in PhD graduates (Germain-Alamartine and Saman 2018)
• New insights on interaction with other types of stakeholders
Case studies of living labs, exploring participation by users, governments, firms and universities in quadruple-helix networks (Nguyen 2018; Nguyen and Marques 2018)
• New insights on university practices
How university face new expectations from e.g. smart specialization (Benneworth and Nieth 2017), the third mission (Cinar 2018a), resulting in mission stretch (Kopelyan 2018)
Qualitative interviews of engaged academics and of star scientists, identifying engagement with regional stakeholders and motivations (Ahoba-Sam 2018; Atta-Owusu 2018)
Case studies of universities’ contribution to social innovation and valorization of local assets (Cinar 2018b)

By the end of the project, RUNIN will have contributed to significantly enhancing the understanding of how universities can contribute to innovation and regional development in different types of regions through a variety of channels.

This will have a significant impact on regional innovation policy and on university policy and practices in the RUNIN regions/universities and beyond. The project is already impacting university practices in the universities associated with the European Consortium of Innovative Universities through close collaboration with its Entrepreneurship and Societal Impact committee, providing significant inputs to its impact assessment framework for the ECIU universities. The project is also influencing regional innovation policy by preparing policy briefs and providing input to regional innovation strategies in the RUNIN regions.