The OECD has recently published the report Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged. Prepared by OECD’s Programme for Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE), this publication builds on two related OECD publications concerned with the role of universities and regional development, namely Response of Higher Education to Regional Needs (1999) and Cities and Regions in the New Learning Economy (2001).
Based on the IMHE’s objective to evaluate and enhance higher education’s contribution to local economic competitiveness in the face of a globalizing knowledge economy, the report synthesizes the experiences of initiatives in 14 regions across 12 countries. As the report writes, the lessons learned draw from various regional projects that had one common goal: “to transform each [higher education institution (HEI)] into an engine for growth” to respond at the local level to the global economic challenge (p. 16).
The report therefore examines and assesses the capacity for universities and colleges to effectively contribute to regional economic development through their multiple dimensions and activities: knowledge creation through research and technology transfer; knowledge transfer through education and human resources development; and, cultural and community development, which they argue can contribute to the conditions in which regional innovation thrives. The project aims to identify the internal and external barriers and constraints that prevent universities from furthering this regional economic agenda, and provides general recommendations for higher education institutions as well as regional and national governments to overcome these obstacles, particularly in terms of governance, management, and capacity building for innovation. The figure embedded in this entry is reflective of the general tenor of the report.
Unlike other recent higher education policy documents that seek to balance the multiple missions of the sector, this report unequivocally frames the purpose of higher education as primarily – if not solely – serving an economic objective. The report identifies and endorses a shift it feels has begun in policy circles and within higher education institutions to move away from national interests and the pursuit of knowledge in favour of engaging with regional economic needs in the face of “global competition.” Yet despite endorsing a regional focus, this report seems to represent renewed interest in comparing the “outcomes” of higher education systems and institutions in terms of international standards of quality, relevance and impact.