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The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - RUNIN (The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2021-02-28

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. 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 their regions. 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 findings emphasise the multi-faceted nature of the role of universities in innovation and regional development. Universities engage with various societal stakeholders, including firms, regional governments, voluntary associations, and citizens. They contribute not just to technological innovation, but also service, public sector, and social innovation. In many cases, universities partner with regional governments to develop regional innovation and development policy, such as smart specialization strategies. They interact for research, to provide education, and to perform broader third-mission activities. Furthermore, universities are themselves loosely interlinked institutions consisting of relatively autonomous actors. They comprise academics, students, administrations, and senior management. These actors may have different interests and contribute independently to regional innovation processes. Hence, analysing universities as singular entities may not be appropriate.
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 includes single, multiple and comparative case studies of all seven RUNIN regions and of other regions in Europe, as well as quantitative studies using national and international data. ESRs have collected data individually or jointly in all seven RUNIN regions and beyond, 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 main research output is published in the form of PhD theses. Nine ESRs have completed their PhD theses so far, while the other five are still finalizing their theses. In total, ESRs have published 47 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters during the project, with several more currently in review. A book with 7 case studies from the RUNIN regions, is currently in press. The working paper series on runinproject.eu has published 32 papers. Work in progress has been presented at various conferences through more than 60 presentations and three special sessions. In addition, ESRs have presented their work at more than 40 seminars in their home or secondment universities. Results have also been communicated to a general audience through publications in blogs, magazines, newspapers, policy reports and on social media. Results have also been communicated directly to audiences at international policy and outreach events. Two ESRs have won prizes for research outputs produced in the project.

The project has completed eight training events. 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 periods of secondment and have interacted closely with co-supervisors and mentors from the RUNIN network during these secondments.
RUNIN has enhanced the understanding of how universities contribute to innovation and regional development in different regions. The findings emphasise the multi-faceted nature of the role of universities in innovation and regional development. Universities engage with various societal stakeholders, and contribute to technological, service, public sector, and social innovation. They also partner with regional governments to develop regional innovation and development policy. They interact for research, to provide education, and to perform broader third-mission activities. Furthermore, universities comprise academics, students, administrations, and senior management. These actors may have different interests and contribute independently to regional innovation processes. Hence, analysing universities as singular entities may not be appropriate.

The research carried out under the theme of People and Networks showed the diversity of relationships that universities can have with their surroundings, and how actors can learn from and develop each other. The central question of the research on Policies and Interventions concerns how universities interact with regional policymakers. These three studies have gone beyond simplistic ideas of triple helices or third missions to analyse the ways in which universities and regions as two complex systems interact in multiple dimensions. The research on Places and Territories examined university-industry interactions from a spatial perspective. While both firms and universities participate in larger global business and academic networks, their interaction is mainly local due to the need for social connections and other types of proximity to their partners. The research carried out under the Practices and Governance theme explored how universities’ regional engagement influences the practices and governance of innovation and regional development.

RUNIN has been embedded within a lead ‘user’ community with non-academic beneficiaries in the participating regions. Training weeks in each of the seven regions have included different types of interactions with stakeholders, such as regional policymakers, university managers, technology transfer professionals, and business representatives. The European Consortium of Innovative Universities has represented a central lead user group. The contact with stakeholders has been used to provide inputs to the research activities, disseminate results, and ensure that the project’s findings are interesting and relevant for immediate users. 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. The project is also influencing regional innovation policy by preparing policy briefs and providing input to regional innovation strategies in the RUNIN regions.
Visit to the family owned farm machinery company Väderstad’s facilities in Linköping
Discussions between ESRs and participants at a RUNIN poster event in Brussels in 2018
ESR Poster Session during the DEA hosted Impact Workshop in November 2018
Visit at the Alicia Foundation, a research centre devoted to technological innovation of food
ESRs making a video about their research proposals
ESR Huong Nguyen and RUNIN mentor Maria Theresa Norn at a RUNIN Poster Session event in Brussels
ESR David Guerrero presenting at the Regional Innovation Policies Conference 2019
The ESRs during a Training Week seminar in 2020
Lisa Nieth and Liliana Fonseca presenting their research theme at the Training Week in Linköping
ESRs presenting to the chair of the Twente Board in Enschede Town Hall
RUNIN ESRs' Q&A session for different actors and RUNIN stakeholders in the Stavanger Region
ESR Lisa Nieth in a discussion with participants at a RUNIN Poster Session event in Aalborg in 2018
ESR group work during the Training Week in Twente
ESR Ridvan Cinar presenting their findings at a Think Tank event at DesignLab Twente in June 2018
EU-funded STEAM City visit during the Training Week in Aveiro in June 2019