An interest in regions as a critical focus of economic policy has been growing in importance for two decades. This chapter focuses on insights generated in the PASCAL Universities and Regional Engagement (PURE) regions into the possibilities for effective higher education engagement in and support for regional innovation systems. The support for regional innovation systems particularly involve small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and seek to foster greater entrepreneurship. The role of higher education institutions in regional innovation systems has been articulated most clearly in the report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). A number of significant themes emerged from the various examples drawn from looking across the PURE regions. There are many opportunities for higher education institutions (HEIs) to contribute to regional innovation systems, if the challenges can be addressed.
This chapter presents an overview of the thinking underpinning the benchmarking activity and an overview of the learning which occurred in different regions. Benchmarking relies on the comparison of statistical data about various dimensions of organisational performance. There has been an increased research activity on benchmarking in higher education. Facilitating learning within universities and regions has been a key theme of the chapter, which has suggested that 'learning' rather than audit is the valuable dimension of efforts at benchmarking across the higher education sector. The PASCAL Universities and Regional Engagement (PURE) project uses university and regional benchmarking instruments to complement the more directly qualitative processes of Consultative Development Groups (CDGs) and associated project activities. The regional benchmarking instrument required regional stakeholders to consider their achievement in a number of areas that are central to regional development.
This chapter takes stock of the learning that has taken place through the Place Management, Social Capital and Learning (PASCAL) Universities and Regional Engagement (PURE) project, by the partner organisations and regions themselves. There may be lessons having wider applicability; learning includes being able to distinguish what is so particular and unique that it cannot be generalised from lessons having wider application. Much of the inter-regional learning as well as learning on the part of International Observatory on PASCAL itself uses e-mail, group discussion, conference calls and above all the PASCAL websites to learn and exchange experience, as well as to plan the work. PASCAL brought expert knowledge and experience of benchmarking the engagement of universities with their communities and regions into PURE. The project also had the opportunity to test and use a new tool designed for PURE to benchmark the behaviour of regions in engaging with higher education.
The engagement of regions with local higher education institutions (HEIs) implies that those responsible for regional administration have the will and ability to choose partnership. Central government may relate directly to levels lower than the main region, delegating and funding to different government levels and even to individual institutions in the public and private sectors. At the highest level and prefiguring policy-making, governments need to clarify and make known their philosophies, assumptions and hence their aspirations and intentions for higher education. The PASCAL Universities and Regional Engagement (PURE) study may indeed suggest that for some purposes 'regions' not matching the constitutional and administrative arrangement of government have advantages for higher education in engaging local-regional development. Governments tend to equate higher education with universities, making this the main focus of interest in engaging HEIs with the potential of a region.
This chapter focuses on regions before turning to individual universities and the higher education (HE) sector locally. The chapter discusses internal arrangements within the administration concerning regions before turning to external relations: both with the university and tertiary sector and with other stakeholders in the private and third sectors. The PASCAL Universities and Regional Engagement (PURE) project like earlier Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) studies of regional development and higher education institutions (HEIs) worked more with administrators than with elected politicians and their leaders in the region. Chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs and community activists as well as HEIs then experience public administration as slow, unhelpful and self-serving. Regional innovation systems require entrepreneurialism inside government, higher education and training, as well as within industry from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to multinationals.
In affirming that there is a critical new imperative, this chapter summarises how it applies to the main parties. The chapter focuses on language and interests, ideology, ethics and taboos. Local regions and higher education institutions inhabit this ideological world. Higher education adopts the language and practices of business and is prey to the same geopolitical global financial crisis (GFC) forces as afflict the public, private and third sectors. A starting issue for the PASCAL Universities and Regional Engagement (PURE) project was to ask about the kinds of regions best fitted to engage with higher education, and to what effect. The uniqueness of regions, of institutions of higher education, ultimately of individuals and their diverse qualities becomes an unaffordable luxury.