Gábor Halász



Policies supporting the regional role of universities[1]



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[2] 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 case of Hungary there are seven macro (NUTS II level) regions which do not have administrative functions but they are the basis for planning and implementing territorial development (see 1. Figure). Statistical data on the social and economic development of these regions are available.


1. Figure
Statistical and development regions in Hungary

Fájl:HU NUTS 2.png


Beyond these macro regions there are smaller units: 19 counties (including the capital) which are the traditional units of territorial administration in Hungary, and also 174 smaller units (micro regions) which might acquire administrative functions if municipalities establish voluntary cooperation at this level (see 2. Figure). The micro regions also have an increasing role in territorial development.


2. Figure
Counties and micro-regions in Hungary

Fájl:Hungary administration map.png


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

  • major businesses generating tax and other revenues;
  • global gateways in terms of marketing and attracting inward investment in the private sector;
  • generators of new businesses and sources of advice to existing businesses;
  • enhancers of local human capital through graduate retention and professional updating of the existing workforce;
  • providers of content and audience for local cultural programmes.


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 Hungary, support the formation of “regional knowledge centres” with universities being the main players or engines of these centres. Innovation and technological development policies may support, which is also the case in Hungary, the creation of is so called “industrial clusters”, that is geographically based institutionalised networks of companies and organisations specialized in knowledge production (research institutions and universities).


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 Hungary. Universities have been, for example encouraged to create regional advisory boards with the representatives of regional authorities and economic organisations. Strengthening the linkages between universities and economic players has been a key priority which, typically, is interpreted as strengthening the linkages between universities and regional economic organisations. Universities are also encouraged to increase their own incomes, the source of which is often regional.


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).


The Main 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 Republic of Hungary, 2007). The strategy proposes the designation of the following six “development poles”, each of them focusing on a limited number of specific sectors and related disciplinary area, sometimes also expressed by a fantasy name:

  • Debrecen: the „industrialisation of knowledge” (pharmaceutical industry, agricultural innovation),
  • Miskolc: „Technopolis” (nano-technology, chemical industry, mechatronics, renewable, alternative energies),
  • Szeged, „Biopolis” (health industrial, environmental industrial and agricultural economic bio-technology),
  • Pécs, „the quality life pole” (cultural and environmental industry),
  • Győr, „Autopolis” (car industry, engineering industry, renewable energies),
  • Székesfehérvár and Veszprém (ICT, mechatronics, logistics, environment industry)


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[3] 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).[4]


The definition of innovative clusters


According to a European legal definition clusters are “groupings of independent undertakings –innovative start-ups, small, medium and large undertakings as well as research organisations – operating in a particular sector and region and designed to stimulate innovative activity by promoting intensive interactions, sharing of facilities and exchange of knowledge and expertise and by contributing effectively to technology transfer, networking and information dissemination among the undertakings in the cluster.


As for the typical status and composition of clusters: „the set-up of cluster organisations or networks is often supported by a clear mandate and public funding from authorities at regional level or more spontaneously initiated within the triangle of universities, incubators and finance, in view to overcome obstacles to cooperation and allow trust building between partners. When mature and successful, cluster organisations tend to raise the majority of their operating costs themselves by membership and service fees, participation fees for training and conferences, sponsoring etc.


Source: European Commission, 2008


Let me finish this presentation by showing one concrete example of an innovation cluster. The cluster named “ArchEnerg[5] 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 part of Hungary, so the cluster has the strongest linkages with the “Szeged” development pole. There are two higher education institutions involved in this cluster: the University of Szeged (with two faculties) and the Faculty of Agricultural, Water and Environmental Management of Tessedik Samuel College (which is part of another University). The self-government of the city Szeged is also a founding member. The cluster operates as a company managed by a cluster manager. This is an accredited cluster, entitled to get funding from national development programs.


3. Figure
The composition of the Cluster ArchEnerg (2008 november)


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 Hungary give a strong encouragement to universities to serve their regions with all their activities, that is, research, education and “third mission”. A number of universities, or a number of units (faculties, departments) within universities are open to have a growing role in regional development, but some of them have not yet found the appropriates channels to do so. The creation of innovative clusters is one way of offering institutionalised opportunities to universities to enter into cooperation with the most dynamic economic players of their region. Similar institutional forms are being created also in the public sector (e.g. education and health).



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. Paris

OECD (2007): Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged. Higher Education and Regions. Paris

OECD (2008): Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society. Paris

The Government of the Republic of Hungary (2007): The New Hungary Development Plan. National Strategic Reference Framework of Hungary 2007–2013 Employment and Growth (http://www.nfu.hu/download/480/NHDP_HU_NSRF-en_Accepted.pdf)

[1] This paper was presented at the conference of the University of Pécs and the New Eurasia Foundation on the „Financial efficiency and social responsibility of higher education institutions” (2009. February 20-21)

[3] R+D+I+E = research + development + innovation + education/training

[4] See the report on the creation of this organisation in the journalVilággazdaság” (World Economy) here: http://vg.hu/index.php?apps=cikk&cikk=223608

[5] See the website of the cluster here: http://www.archenerg.hu/magyar/index.php