AuthorChirca, Andrei
  1. Introduction

    Universities, through their contribution to human capital training, through the research they carry out and their direct involvement in innovation, play an even more important role in an economy of knowledge. The role of universities is no longer reduced to education, research and--possibly--public service; universities are increasingly more often assigned the role of catalysts of local and regional economy development (Steinnes, 1987; Drucker and Goldstein, 2007). This third mission, beyond the two classical ones--education and research--gets increasingly more accommodated among higher education institutions.

    In terms of short-term and demand-side effects impact, the university participates directly in the economic life of the host-city: it shops from local suppliers, has employees it compensates financially, attracts students who--during their studies--become city residents (Pastor, Perez and de Guevara, 2013). Moreover, it also attracts tourists, such as potential students, relatives and friends of students, participants to university events. Estimating the universities' contribution through these factors that are directly attributed to universities may prove a more feasible and pragmatic approach.

    Estimating visitors' economic contribution is a part of the vast majority of the methodologies used in assessing impact of a university or a group of universities upon a specific geographical area where they are located: from Caffrey and Isaacs's pioneering model dating back in 1971, still used in case studies and estimations of universities' contributions into local economies, to a more recent one (Pastor, Perez and de Guevara, 2013) used by universities in Spain. Its validity is given by the ten economic impact studies carried out by Spanish universities between 2008 and 2014.

    The main line of reasoning behind tackling this topic consists in the absence of impact studies generated by higher education institutions, as well as the lack of debates on this subject in the Romanian public sphere. The absence of such studies does not just overlook the universities' economic role and contribution into the host-community, but also leaves several aspects linked to higher education unexplored, such as the structure of spending made by the university, students' living costs, migration and tourism generated by the university, the economic burden for sustaining higher education, and the distribution of this burden between the public and the private sectors.

    The largest Romanian cities hosting universities (Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest, Iasi and Timisoara) represent the most suitable environment for carrying out such studies, as they deal with the perception of the students' importance for the cities' economies, even if left unmeasured. Moreover, these university centers host nationally prestigious universities, and their appeal becomes evident not just through the numbers of student applicants, but also through their geographical origin.

    The most representative case consists of the presence of the Babes-Bolyai University (BBU from here on) from Cluj-Napoca, which encompasses half of the students in the city, who altogether make up over 20% of the city's population. BBU students originate from all Romanian counties and abroad, and account for a permanence in Cluj-Napoca of ten months per year, on average. Moreover, BBU ranks among the most important employers in Cluj-Napoca, and the university's budget could place it among the top ten companies in town, according to its turnover.

    The issue's importance stems from the realities of Romanian higher education, undergoing a fairly difficult time because of legislative inconsistencies, the decrease of student population at the national level, and the already chronic underfunding (see the Annual Public Report of CNFIS, 2016). Deemed a national priority, both by the Education Law and by gatekeepers--on a discursive level -, education--especially higher education - does not benefit from proper attention, which is shown in the allocation of insufficient funds, legislative and procedural changes, and especially the lack of relevant empirical studies regarding its importance, role, and impact (Chirca and Lazar, 2018).

    The paper is structured as follows: the next section explores some conceptual aspects regarding the studies of economic impact of universities where the visitors' expenditure issues are a part of the studies, while the third section presents the methodology and the main results of the survey carried out among Babes-Bolyai University students in order to estimate their visitors' expenditure in the reference year of 2015 as part of the broader study concerning the total students' expenditure during their study and residence in the city of Cluj-Napoca. In section 3 we also present the estimations regarding students' expenditure during their admissions period--another form of tourism due to the presence of the university. Some conclusions are highlighted in the last part of the paper.

  2. Background

    The capacity of a university or a group of universities to influence the socio-economic development of the area in which they are located is well established in the literature (Armstrong, 1993; Bleaney et al., 1992; Blackwell, Cobb and Weinberg, 2002; OECD, 2007; Pastor, Perez and de Guevara, 2013; Schubert and Kroll, 2016). As a large-scale consumer of inputs such as: labor, goods and services, and generator of outputs: skills, know-how and local attractiveness the university cannot fail at being a major factor in metropolitan economic development (Felsenstein, 1996, p. 1566).

    The mark left by university upon a local community can be observed under various forms, tangible and intangible, overt or covert, dependent on several factors, internal and external to the academic environment. Warsh (2006) asserts that it is enough to take a look at any map to observe that cities housing universities have remained on top or renewed themselves around the world; the idea that knowledge is a powerful factor of production requires no more definitive proof than that.

    The regional studies enhance the attention towards university role through considerable efforts devoted to understanding the contributions of university to the functioning of regional economies (Florax, 1992; Drucker and Goldstein, 2007). The EU Guide 'Connecting Universities to Regional Growth' issued in 2011, aims at enabling public authorities in promoting an active engagement of higher education institutions in regional innovation strategies for smart specialization, in cooperation with research centers, businesses and other partners in the civil society (European Commission Regional Policy, 2011).

    The University is a part of the Tripe Helix (university-industry-government)--an interaction that is the key to innovation in an increasingly knowledge-based society...

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