Connecting Universities to Regional Growth

Submitting Institution

Newcastle University

Unit of Assessment

Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Human Geography, Policy and Administration

Download original


Summary of the impact

Goddard's research in the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) has:

  • revealed what enables and what constrains (i) regions seeking to mobilise universities in support of their development goals and (ii) universities' abilities to engage with their local communities;
  • provided evidence that has enabled policy makers to give greater prominence within the European Structural Funds to the contribution that universities can make to their regions and the delivery of the Europe 2020 agenda of `smart, sustainable and inclusive growth'.

Underpinning research

Research in CURDS, as an ESRC Research Centre during the 1980s, established the importance of business innovation in explaining regional variations in economic performance and the importance of institutions, particularly the state, in shaping this process. On this platform John Goddard (Professor of Regional Development Studies) and his colleagues subsequently built a deeper understanding of the actual and potential role of universities in what came to be recognised as `regional innovation systems'. This work has involved building bridges between hitherto separate academic fields of regional development and higher education (opening the university as a multi-faceted institution to the former and the complexity of the region to the latter) and a continual interaction between research, policy and practice. It has also involved using CURDS research to guide Newcastle University, other North East Universities and local/regional authorities and taking these insights to the international stage through OECD and the European Commission and then back into UK national policy. This process has highlighted the challenges of multi-level governance with higher education not normally being part of systems of local governance. It has revealed how universities through their teaching as well as their research and through acting as key institutions in local civil society can contribute to the social, economic, cultural and sustainable development of places in the round. It has also revealed the gaps between the promise and practise of university regional engagement. Examples of this iterative process are as follows.

Research for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP, now UUK) Universities and Communities (1) resulted in an entire chapter of the Dearing Report (1997) being dedicated to `The Local and Regional Roles of Higher Education', in which the CVCP report was heavily cited. Goddard and Chatterton (1999) explored how these recommendations could be taken forward following the election of the New Labour government and its evolving approach to regional economic development, notably the establishment of Regional Development Agencies (2).

Growing international interest in this topic led Goddard to build on his experience by designing the themes for and methodology of self-evaluation and peer review as academic leader of OECD's programme of work on higher education and regional development. He used the evidence gathered from 14 reviews in 12 countries including Australia, Canada, Brazil and South Korea (one of which he personally led) to draft the OECD report Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged (3).

A key intermediary institution used by many regions reviewed by OECD to embed universities in regional innovation systems was the Technology and Innovation Centre. In 2012, Goddard et al. (4) used evidence gathered in the North East of England to explore how such centres could bridge the gap between university research and industry in a lagging region. The conclusion was that while there were links between the promise and the practice, both the university and the centres were locked into a national science and technology system in which contributing to addressing uneven regional economic development remained a secondary concern. For those responsible for implementing European regional policy and managing universities seeking to engage with their regions, Goddard and Kempton have summarised 17 years of research and international fieldwork in a practical guide Connecting Universities to Regional Growth (5).

The extensive literature on universities and communities has now been summarised in Goddard and Vallance's (2013) book, The University and City (6). The book develops case studies of four UK cities, focusing on the contribution of universities to the challenges of sustainable, healthy and creative urban development. The book explores the significant local direct and indirect impacts of universities — on employment, the built environment, business innovation and the wider society — and in the process exposes the extent to which universities are just in the city, or part of the city and actively contributing to its development.

References to the research

1. Goddard, J. B. (1994) Universities and Communities, CVCP, London. Available from HEI on request.

2. Goddard, J. B., Chatterton, P. (1999). `Regional Development Agencies and the knowledge economy: harnessing the potential of universities.' Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 17(6) 685 - 699. DOI: 10.1068/c170685


3. Goddard, J.B. (2007). Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged. Paris: OECD. Available at:

4. Goddard, J.B., Robertson, D., Vallance, P. (2012). `Universities, Technology and Innovation Centres and regional development: the case of the North-East of England'. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 36(3), 609-627. DOI 10.1093/cje/bes005.


5. Goddard, J., Kempton L. (2011). Connecting Universities to Regional Growth: A Practical Guide. Brussels: European Commission. Available

6. Goddard J., Vallance P. (2013). The University and the City. London, UK: Routledge. REF2 output: 191851.

Details of the impact

Impact has been achieved through an iterative process informing and informed by the policies and practices of international institutions, national and sub-national governments and individual universities. It has addressed the drivers:

(i) from regions seeking to mobilise universities in support of their development goals; and

(ii) from within higher education for universities to engage with their local communities.

It has also revealed the barriers to collaboration operating within both domains and ways of overcoming them, for example building more specific links between national higher education, science and territorial development policies.

In terms of reach, the OECD programme of reviews of Higher Education in City and Regional Development (2005-12) shaped by Goddard has involved university and regional partnerships from across the globe and embraced cities such as Berlin and Amsterdam, states such as Victoria in Australia, the Atlantic Province in Canada and Catalonia in Spain, administrative regions in centralised countries like the North East of England and Jyvaskyla in Finland and less urbanised regions such as Värmland in Sweden. Individual regions and universities have taken specific action in response to the reviews. For example Värmland notes:

"The conclusions and recommendations produced by the [OCED review] have had great significance for policy development of the triple helix collaboration in Värmland...The development of research collaboration between Region Värmland and Karlstad University is a direct result of the OECD project" (IMP1).

In terms of the significance, the reviews revealed barriers to fostering collaboration within the separate spheres of higher education and regional development policy. Further, the work for the OECD has influenced the European Commission such that the revised guidelines for regional policy are now more sensitive to the contribution that universities can make to the Europe 2020 agenda of `smart, sustainable and inclusive growth'. To underpin the role of universities in a process of regional smart specialisation (through which regions focus on identifying and mobilising their distinctive assets viewed in a global context), Goddard and Kempton were commissioned to prepare a practical guide Connecting Universities to Regional Growth which has been endorsed by Commissioners for both Education and Regional Policy (IMP2, IMP3).

National higher education agencies are already using this guidance. For example in a submission on the revision of structural funds to the Welsh Assembly Enterprise and Business Committee, Higher Education Wales notes: "This shift [to a focus on interventions which will have long term and beneficial outcomes for the Welsh economy] is explicitly recommended by the European Commission itself in its landmark report `Connecting Universities to Regional Growth" (IMP4). Within England the CURDS team has facilitated the establishment of a leadership group within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to guide the design and implementation of a national smart specialisation strategy which includes strong representation from higher education (see Witty Review) (IMP5). The Guide has also had an impact outside of the EU having been translated into Arabic and used to influence the establishment of 11 new universities in Saudi Arabia (IMP6).

In recognition of the fact that effective regional engagement will require change within universities the agenda has also been taken forward by the European Commission's Directorate for Education and Culture as part of its policy on `Modernising European Universities'. The background policy paper draws on the language of the Guide to note:

"...higher education institutions [should] become key partners for the regional authorities in formulating and implementing their smart specialisation strategies. They can contribute to rigorous assessment of the region's knowledge assets, capabilities and competencies, including those embedded in the institution's own departments, as well as local businesses, with a view to identifying the most promising areas of specialisation for a region, but also the weaknesses that hamper innovation" (IMP7, IMP8).

To help embed this aspiration into practise the CURDS team has facilitated a partnership between the European Universities Association, which represents 850 universities, and the Smart Specialisation Platform established in the EU's Joint Research Centre to support regions in preparing and implementing their smart strategies (see information at The partnership involves a network of universities and regions working together to share best practice (IMP9).

The impact of the work has been further enhanced through the Commission's annual Regio-Stars award through which regions are invited to compete for recognition of innovative regional projects. In 2012 a new category `Connecting Universities to Regional Growth' was established which attracted 39 entries, more than any other category of award. Goddard was a juror and the finalist regions all demonstrated the impact of the recommendations in the Guide (IMP10).

Sources to corroborate the impact

(IMP1) Tender document: Evaluation of the declaration of intent concerning collaboration in research between Karlstad University and Region Värmland. Available on request.

(IMP2) Goddard, J., Kempton L., (2011). Connecting Universities to Regional Growth: A Practical Guide. Brussels: European Commission. Available

(IMP3) Factual statement from Head of Unit, Competence Centre for Smart Sustainable Growth in the Directorate General for Regional Policy in the European Commission. Available on request.

(IMP4) Statement from Welsh Assembly on the European Commission recommendations. Available at:

(IMP5) Factual statement from Deputy Director EU Skills, Department of Business Innovation and Skills. Available on request.

(IMP6) Factual statement from Director, Centre for Higher Education Research, Ministry of Higher Education, Saudi Arabia. Available on request.

(IMP7) European Commission staff working document (SEC (2011) 1063 final) accompanying the Commission Communication COM(2011) 567 final Supporting growth and jobs: an agenda for the modernisation of Europe's higher education systems p.43

(IMP8) Corroborating contact: Deputy Head for Lifelong Learning, Higher Education and International Affairs in the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission.

(IMP9) Factual statement from Deputy Secretary General (Research and Innovation), European Universities Association. Available on request.

(IMP10) New RegioStars award — Connecting Universities to Regional Growth. Available at: