EUROPE: Collaborating for economic development

Universities and colleges in seven regions across the European Union have joined a new project to discuss how higher education can generate wealth in economically struggling areas through collaboration with regional and local governments plus industry.

The University Collaboration in Regional Development Spaces scheme is a three-year EUR 2 million (US$2.4 million) project funded in part by the EU's European Regional Development Fund and 15 other partners in Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary and the UK.

Several European municipalities have signed on to participate in the project, including the regional council of Vasterbotten and the municipality of Skellefteå in Sweden, the city of Seinäjoki in Finland, the South Bohemia Regional Authority in the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in Bulgaria and the Regional Authority Hadju Bihar in Hungary.

"[The scheme] is all about sharing information between European countries to help drive forward the role of universities in boosting regional economies," said Carolyn Rule, a cabinet member for economy and regeneration on the Cornwall Council in the UK which is leading the project.

Through collaboration within the network, the partners will be able to share their information and experiences concerning local economic growth to stimulate economic development and transform their own European regions into areas where research and innovation can grow and excel.

The regions are dispersed all over Europe and include partners from countries such as Finland, Bulgaria, Sweden, UK and the Czech Republic.

The aim of the project is to foster a collaborative environment between the partner schools and cities. Through sharing of information the partners expect to further develop the 'triple helix model', a model based on multi-campus universities much like the Combined Universities in Cornwall which aims to promote further education in Cornwall, a relatively poor area in the far southwest of England.

"[The scheme] brings together regions from across Europe, including Cornwall, that share similar characteristics - for example, their geographical location and distance from key areas of economic activity, population demographics or decline of traditional industries," said Nicolas Wallet, project manager of Cornwall Council.

Wallet is working from the Combined Universities in Cornwall which officials regard as one of the best examples of a decentralised, multi-campus approach to higher education.

"Cornwall has pioneered a radical new approach to university education over the past decade, with the specific aim of using higher education to drive economic regeneration. We have learned a great deal along the way, but we are still navigating uncharted territory," said CUC Director Dr Sue Brownlow.

The triple helix approach to higher education and regional development could eventually be adopted by the European Commission. The model focuses on universities with multiple campuses and their integration into the private and public sectors.

"The aim is to develop a model for regional development that is integrated into local, regional, national and EU policy structures," Wallet said.