Policies supporting the regional role of universities
During the last decade the regional responsibility of universities came into the focus of research on higher education, as well as research into regional development, innovation and competitiveness. The OECD conducted approximately one decade ago its first related survey on “learning regions” (OECD, 2001) which demonstrated, among others, the role of universities in transforming regions into competitive entities in the learning economy. A few year later the same organisation conducted a major survey on this theme, publishing the first results in a book entitled “Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged” in 2007 (OECD, 2007). The thematic review of OECD on tertiary education also devoted significant attention to this theme (OECD, 2008). Inspired by the first OECD study a community of researchers interested in this theme together with some regional governments created a network called “Observatory Pascal” which, since its creation, has produced a number of analyses and case studies on this theme. Enhancing the role of universities in regional development has become a key policy goal in higher education policy strategies in most developed countries.
The goal of this paper is to present some key
features of the policy of the Hungarian government to enhance the role of
universities in regional development. By regions we mean here sub-national geographical
units within countries which may have or not administrative functions. In the
Beyond these macro regions there are smaller
units: 19 counties (including the capital) which are the traditional units of
territorial administration in
Universities can play various regionally oriented roles. They may take a role in satisfying the skills needs of regional economy, providing training used mainly by regional employers. They may contribute to the solution of the particular social and economic problems of their region providing various services used by regional players, such as research or consultancy. Doing this they may contribute significantly to regional development, enhancing innovation and competitiveness within the region. According to Goddard and Puukka (2008) agencies responsible for city and regional development see higher education institutions as important regional players because they look at them as
There are several factors that may encourage universities to take a stronger regional role: some of them are external to the university, some of them are internal. Among the external factors national policies of innovation and competiveness, policies of regional development but also national higher education policies can be mentioned. This role can also be encouraged by various regional actors, such as political bodies, employers and companies or development agencies. As for the internal factors, the regional role can be enhanced, for example, by the specific history of the university (when the regional roots are particularly strong), but also by institutional marketing and competitiveness strategies, direct financial reasons (e.g. the strive for external resources) or the intention or interests to follow national policy priorities
National governments can use various tools to
encourage universities to play a stronger regional role either as part of their
higher education policies or as part of their policies of innovation,
competitiveness and territorial development. For example, territorial
development policies may, as it is the case in
As for higher education policy, the key
strategic documents in this field have been supporting the regional role of
universities since the middle of the eighties, in
Strengthening of the regional role of universities is an important goal of Hungarian national development programs, financed from the EU structural funds, particularly the European Social Fund. The New Hungary Development Plan, which is the strategic national framework for development for the period 2007-2013 (The Government of the Republic of Hungary, 2007) makes reference to this priority at several levels: (1) in its Main Strategy, (2) in its “Economic Development Operational Program”, (3) in the seven “Regional Development Operational Programs” and (4) also in the higher education component of its “Social Renewal Operational Program” (this latter serving the whole human sector, such as labour, social, health and education policy areas).
Strategy stresses explicitly the role of universities in regional
innovation, proposing the creation the so called “development poles” which are
specific regions with a major city in their centre: “The focal points of innovation are mainly the cities which have
universities and research institutes. Strengthening innovation, developing
innovative clusters, knowledge-based economy and enterprises are placed in the
centre and built on the basis of development pole programmes. The development
of regional clusters is supported in the frame of the pole programme, where the
objective is to strengthen the international competitiveness of a well defined
industry or business. The condition for this is a suitably developed business
environment.” (The Government of the
Similar formulations can be found in the regional development operational programs. The “North Hungary Regional Operational Programme”, for example, mentions that „the stronger cooperation between the higher education institutions of the region with the enterprises of the region is a key strategic goal” (A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya, 2007a). The “South Transdanubia Regional Operational Programme” mentions that “in the case of the university centres of the region it is important to broaden the innovation capacities of the institutions in order to strengthen their territorial impact” (A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya, 2007b).
The “Economic Development Operational Programme” contains a specific measure which aims at the creation of “innovation clusters”. As the text of this operational programme formulates: “the goal of the measure entitled ‘Supporting innovation clusters’ is the creation of accredited innovation clusters linked with the program of establishing development/competitiveness poles, and make these cluster internationally visible” (A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya, 2007c).
The “Social Renewal Operational Program”, serving the human sector (labour, social, health and education) contains measures aimed at developing the higher education sector. Among these measures some are directly linked with the goal of regional development. As the text of this program states: “The goal of creating regional knowledge centres is to support the regional perspective (…). This enhances universities to base their activities on the direct satisfaction of regional needs (…) and to define their R+D+I+E activities directly in function of the needs of the enterprises of the regional economy (A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya, 2007d).
The implementation of these operative programs, as well as some earlier programs, has already led to the creation of a number of innovation clusters linking universities with regional economic players. These clusters are institutionalised networks of economic and knowledge producing organisations (such as universities, research institutes or consultancy firms) and they typically operate as companies with a legal personality (see also the box below). One of the measures of the New Hungary Development Plan has created a mechanism to accredit innovation clusters linked with the “development poles” (Nemzeti Fejlesztési Ügynökség, 2009). This makes it possible for the new and the already existing clusters to get a formal recognition if they meet certain standards. This process has been supported by the establishment, in 2008, of a national association of innovation clusters and networks by 14 organisations (some of them already clusters in operation).
Let me finish this presentation by showing one
concrete example of an innovation cluster. The cluster named “ArchEnerg” was founded in 2007 and has currently
(February 2009) 41 members, all of them interested in the area of renewable energy and related constructions. Most of the members are
small and medium size enterprises (see 3.
Figure), and most of them operate in the southern-eastern
Source: the website of the cluster
KKV = Small and medium size enterprises
Nagyvállalat = Big enterprises
Kutatóintézet = Research Institutes
Egyetem = Universities
The documents and the cases presented here show
that national policies in
A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya (2007a): Észak-magyarországi Operatív program 2007-2013 (The Government of the Republic of Hungary - North Hungary Operational Program) (http://www.nfu.hu/download/1765/EMOP_20070705.pdf)
A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya (2007b): Dél-dunántúli operatív program 2007-2013 (The Government of the Republic of Hungary – South Hungary Operational Program) (http://www.nfu.hu/download/1763/DDOP_070705.pdf)
A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya (2007c): Gazdaságfejlesztési operatív program (The Government of the Republic of Hungary - Economic Development Operational Program) (http://www.nfu.hu/download/1766/GOP_070702_HU.pdf)
A Magyar Köztársaság Kormánya (2007d): Társadalmi megújulás operatív program 2007-2013 (The Government of the Republic of Hungary - Social Renewal Operational Program) (http://www.nfu.hu/download/2736/TAMOP_adopted_hu.pdf )
European Commission (2008): The concept of clusters and cluster policies and their role for competitiveness and innovation: main statistical results and lessons learned. Commission Staff Working Document. Europe INNOVA/PRO INNO Europe paper N° 9 (http://www.proinno-europe.eu/admin/uploaded_documents/2008.2494_deliverable_EN_web.pdf )
Goddard, John - Puukka, Jaana (2008) The Engagement of Higher Education Institutions in Regional Development: An Overview of the Opportunities and Challenges. Higher Education Management and Policy. Volume 20, No. 2. pp. 11-41.
Nemzeti Fejlesztési ügynökség (2009): Pályázati felhívás és útmutató az „Akkreditált Innovációs Klaszter” cím elnyerésére (National Development Agency – Public tender and guidelines for obtaining the title of “Accredited Innovation Cluster”) (http://www.nfu.hu/download/14854/Akkreditacio_klaszter_utmutato_090130_nc.pdf )
OECD (2001): Cities and Regions in
the New Learning Economy.
OECD (2007): Globally Competitive,
Locally Engaged. Higher Education and Regions.
OECD (2008): Tertiary Education for
the Knowledge Society.
The Government of the
 This paper was presented at the conference of
 R+D+I+E = research + development + innovation + education/training