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



Higher Education Institution Knowledge and its impact on regional competitiveness

1 June 2007 – 31 January 2010

Link to this project's ESRC Award Page

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator :Dr Robert Huggins University of Wales Institute Cardiff
  • Researcher: Andrew Johnston ( Sheffield Hallam University)
  • Daniel Prokop, University of Wales Institute Cardiff


Since the 1990s, there have been numerous efforts to estimate the economic impact of particular higher education institutions (HEIs) on the respective local and/or regional economy in which they are located. While many studies have focused on the direct economic impact through employment and university supply-chains, some have given consideration to assessing the impact of HEI knowledge and its transfer and flow to local and regional communities. However, there has been little systematic analysis of the impact of HEI knowledge across UK regions or spatial patterns of the utilisation and flow of HEI generated knowledge. This is surprising, since HEI generated knowledge and research is increasingly seen as an important stimulant of economic growth, especially for improving the development capabilities and economic performance of regions. This raised awareness has also occurred at a time when variations in underlying levels of knowledge are further understood to be important determinants of disparities in regional competitiveness.

The key aim of the proposed study is to assess and analyse the impact of Higher Education Institution (HEI) generated knowledge on the competitiveness of those regions within which respective HEIs are located within the twelve UK regions. The study will focus on a regional comparison of HEI knowledge flows to the business community and other institutions both within and external to the region in which particular HEIs are based. It will analyse the impact of HEI knowledge in relation to the type of knowledge, the flow mechanisms, and the types of actors 'receiving' this knowledge.

As well drawing comparisons across the twelve UK regions, further comparison will be made an international level. The methodological design will be utilised not only for the UK regions but also in a parallel US study with partners from the Regional Development Institute (RDI) at Northern Illinois University. RDI will implement the research design in the first instance in the Chicago Metropolitan region. The UK-US comparisons will allow for the collection of a larger comparative data sample, which will enable an assessment of whether or not there any fundamental differences between HEI regional knowledge flow in the UK and this US region, as well the impact any such differences have on regional competitiveness.

The key research questions the study will seek to analyse and answer are:

  1. What is the relative impact of HEI generated knowledge on the economic competitiveness of each of the twelve UK regions, and how does this compare with the Chicago Metropolitan region?
  2. What types of HEI generated knowledge have the highest impact on regional competitiveness, and does this vary across regions?
  3. What is the impact on the micro-economic competitiveness of the actors 'receiving' HEI generated knowledge and does this vary across regions?
  4. What is the balance between HEI generated knowledge that impacts on the region in which a particular HEI is based, compared with impact the HEI's knowledge has outside of the region?
  5. What are the mechanisms by which HEI generated knowledge flows most effectively and achieves the highest positive impact on regional competitiveness?
  6. What are the most applicable forms of policy intervention, if any, for improving the impact of HEI generated knowledge on regional competitiveness, and the extent to which such intervention requires tailoring and variation across regions?

The research design will involve analysing a range of secondary data coupled the capturing and analysis of data via:

  • A postal/electronic survey of those responsible for knowledge transfer in all (164) UK HEIs and those HEIs within theChicago Metropolitan region.
  • A postal/survey of a sample of firms and institutions engaged with the knowledge transfer activities of HEIs.
  • Case studies, developed through face-to-face interviews, with a sample of actors involved in knowledge flow processes.

Selected Project Outputs

Please see the project's ESRC page for the latest information on project outputs