Impact of Higher Education Institutions on Regional Economies: A Joint Research Initiative



The Impact of Economics and Quality of Life on Graduate Flows and Subsequent Innovative Capacity of Cities in the UK

1 April 2007 – 31 March 2008

Link to this project's ESRC Award Page

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Dr Marc Cowling, Institute for Employment Studies
  • Co-Investigator: Ms Emma Pollard, Institute for Employment Studies
  • Co-Investigator: Mr Peter Bates, Institute for Employment Studies


To quote this call for research proposals, 'the full extent, and diverse, means, of the impact of HEIs' other activities is poorly understood.' In line with this, Florida (1999) points out that, 'from the 1980s the university was seen as an under-utilised weapon in the battle for industrial competitiveness and regional economic growth' (p.67). This led to the creation of policy initiatives such as the UK Science Park Initiative designed to promote the development of science parks as a means of creating an interface between the academic world and business which would allow knowledge transfer and the commercialisation of science (often termed the science-push model). Yet the results of that initiative (Westhead andStorey, 1993), and more recently the Cambridge/MIT venture to cite two UK examples, together with US and South Korean evidence (Leslie and Kargon, 1996; Mayer, 2003) suggest that such policies have not sparked the kind of regional growth seen in the classic cases of Silicon Valley and Boston Route 128. Thus it is often argued now that HEIs' are far more important in terms of their role as the primary source of knowledge creation and talent. This is broadly in line with shift in emphasis in economics and other disciplines, as well as in the world of business, towards a focus on people (human capital) as opposed to physical capital. In short, people are the most critical resource to any economy, but in particular those which are seeking to move towards becoming knowledge-based. There are dangers though, as pointed out by Fogarty and Sinha (1999), as new knowledge is generated in many places, but it is only those regions that can absorb and apply those ideas that can turn them to their economic advantage. This means that it is essential to understand, more fully, inter-regional flows of knowledge, and graduates are a prime source of this. With this in mind we propose to adopt a three stage approach to our research: Firstly we will populate the basic matrix adopted by Pollard et al (2005) which has three basic components: (1) region of initial domicile, (2) region of study, and (3) region of employment, and 8 potential outcomes in the context of the starting region, only four of which add to the stock of human capital within the start region. Then we will explore what regional factors are associated with theseflows of students and graduates, paying particular attention to quality of life indicators, quality of HEI, labour market characteristics, population demographics and relative economic performance. Importantly, we also allow for these human capital flows to be embedded in a wider innovation system in two ways. Firstly, we allow for a regions innovative capacity and knowledge intensity to act as a potential attractor of students and graduate employees. Yet we also allow for students and graduates to act as a stimulus for innovation and knowledge-based economic activity.In terms of previous work we build upon it and extend it in three key ways.

  • Firstly, we extend the focus of analysis below the region to the level of the city which is increasingly important as a focus for economic activity.
  • Secondly, we propose to develop a far more inclusive and sophisticated measure of quality of life including cultural amenities (parks, museums etc), crime, environmental measures, health care provision, housing quality, availability, and cost etc.
  • Thirdly, we propose to break down our graduate analysis into broad subject areas as we a priori believe that certain types of (science and technology) graduates may have a greater impact on innovation.

Selected Project Outputs

Please see the project's ESRC page for the most up to date information and outputs

Related Themes