12.2 While many institutions are national and international in their outlook, they have also developed an importance in a local and regional context that could not have been foreseen at the time of the Robbins report. This is not simply a consequence of the much increased scale of higher education: it also reflects the centrality of higher education to the future economic and social wellbeing of communities, and the changing structure of the economy.
12.3 In this chapter we examine:
12.4 We commissioned a report on Higher Education and the Regions (Report 9), which examines the issues in some detail. In this evidence and elsewhere we found different perspectives in the United Kingdom (UK) about the significance of the region. For some, the region in England is a geographical area which, often for historical reasons, has a real identity. For others, the word refers to the government administrative regions of England, with regional offices but with no roots in history. For people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland it refers to their home territory. For the institutions themselves, the identification with the three national regions is strong. In England regional identification varies from one part of the country to another, being strong, for example, in the North East, but less so in the Midlands. Throughout the UK, however, there is a widespread recognition of the importance of higher education institutions to local communities, of the contribution they make to them and of their growing mutual interest.
12.5 In this chapter we are concerned with those aspects of higher education to which locality and proximity are important. Some of these activities will be at a very local level, others will be more geographically dispersed. In England, we have found that these activities seldom take place within defined administrative boundaries. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while there is activity at a local level, the national region is a natural focus for much activity. To avoid confusion, in this chapter we have adopted the phrase local and regional as a generic term to cover the range of activities we are describing. We use the term region to describe the administrative regions of England, locality to refer to smaller areas and national region to describe Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The evidence points to a growing realisation of the
importance of higher education to the locality of which
it is part. Professor Robert Reich, the former US
Secretary of Labor, has suggested:
12.7 The evidence from the UK suggests that the extent of the local and regional involvement of institutions is currently patchy, but that it needs to turn to active and systematic engagement. While throughout this report we advocate institutional autonomy and diversity, with institutions free to identify for themselves the balance between consciously local, national or international roles, we are clear that each locality or region needs the engagement of higher education. The form of this will rightly differ from institution to institution. We exemplify below the ways in which institutions are already engaged and conclude with recommendations which will help institutions enhance the effectiveness of their local and regional engagement to the mutual benefit of themselves and their localities.
Measuring the local and regional impact of higher education
12.8 In recent years, as we have suggested, there has been a growing emphasis on the local and regional role of higher education, to the extent that over three-quarters of institutions now refer to local and/or regional objectives in their strategic plans. At the same time there have been a number of attempts to measure the impact of higher education at local and regional level.2
12.9 These studies have shown that higher education providers make a significant economic contribution simply by their existence in a locality, whether or not they adopt an explicit mission to generate local or regional economic activity or to play a part in the cultural life of their locality or region. This reflects their size, both relative and absolute, in the local and regional economy, and is enhanced by the multiplier effect which they exert (ie the additional economic activity generated for every unit of expenditure by the institution). A recent study by the Cardiff Business School found that total spending by Welsh higher education institutions in 1995/96 exceeded half a billion pounds including £280 million on wages for over 14,000 staff and £100 million on Welsh goods and services. The total impact on the Welsh economy of this expenditure, including the multiplier effect, was estimated at just over £1 billion. The study also estimated that the multiplier effect of this spending, acting through local sourcing and local income effects, created or supported a further 10,500 jobs in Wales.3
12.10 There is debate about some of the assessments that have been made in the past of the impact on local economies of higher education institutions. Professor Goddard of Newcastle University and his team, in their report for the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, cast doubt on some of the more ambitious calculations made from time to time.4 Others have drawn attention to some of the burdens institutions inevitably place on a local economy in terms of road congestion and their use of other services. But the evidence is clear that higher education is now a significant and sometimes a major element in local and regional economies. Professor Goddards report suggests that expenditure by higher education staff and students alone is responsible for an extra one per cent of local employment. The range of its contribution is in fact very wide, extending to support through research and consultancy, attracting investment and providing new sources of employment, meeting labour market needs, supporting lifelong learning, and as centres of culture contributing to the quality of life in their localities.
Active engagement by institutions in their localities and regions
12.11 In addition to being substantial sources of economic activity, higher education institutions make a proactive contribution to local and regional economies. Some commentators place these kinds of activity at the heart of global economic change:
12.12 Others consider such analyses to be exaggerated. But all the evidence we considered suggested that there is a powerful mutuality of interest between higher education and society and that there is much to be gained by fostering the active engagement of institutions with localities and regions.
Research and consultancy
12.14 In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the development agencies established to foster industrial and commercial regeneration have explicitly promoted the commercial development of academic research, as illustrated in the following examples:
In England, in the North Eastern region, which is
probably typical of the more proactive clusters of higher
education institutions, there has been a distinctively
regional as well as local approach to research and
consultancy support for industry. In response to an
analysis of the regions needs, its universities
have established a European Process Industry
Competitiveness Centre, a Centre for Achievement in
Manufacturing and Management, a Centre for Low Volume
Engineering, and a Northern Informatics Application
Agency. To provide an easy point of access for small
firms to all the universities of the North East they have
established a Knowledge House, which is
financed by the universities of the region, the Open
University and the European Regional Development Fund
12.16 There are other notable examples in the North West and London, which provide incubator units, and bridges between employer needs and the traditional research and consultancy services of institutions. The longest established exemplar in the UK is probably the cluster of largely scientific companies known as the Cambridge phenomenon, where an exceptional number of companies have formed themselves as spin-offs of the university either by using university research or by involving academics. In Cambridge, the presence of the University and associated research institutions lies at the root of the Phenomenon. The long history of internationally leading research has resulted in a concentrated accumulation locally of skills, knowledge and facilities, which were the initial foundation on which high technology enterprise became established in the area.6 Most recently, Microsoft is reported to have been in discussion with Cambridge University about setting up a research base in the area.
12.17 In all these examples, which do not comprise an exhaustive list, there is:
Attracting inward investment
12.19 This is further illustrated by USA experience. The area around Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina, has become home to more than 215 companies from 18 countries, 74 of which have their USA headquarters there. While these cities make an unlikely centre for international industry, they have the highest diversified foreign investment per head in the USA. South Carolinas principal attraction is the competence of its workforce, heavily sponsored by the state, which offers free, customised technical training of prospective workers and supervisors of companies that bring new investment.8