UNIVERSITIES AS 'DRIVERS' OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

AuthorProfiroiu, Marius Constantin
  1. Introduction

    The Knowledge Revolution redefines the development equation and places education, together with human and intellectual capital, and social and institutional capital, at the center of the development strategies (Gal, 2002).

    The different perspectives brought more meanings to the concept of education, as the functionalism of Durkheim (1925) and Parsons (1961), in which education was society's transmitter for norms and values (apud Haralambos and Holborn, 2008), the modern and postmodern perspective, where the educational system is the transmitter in terms of economic growth (see Hassink, 2005; Goddard and Kempton, 2011), sustainability (see Stephens et al., 2008; Zilahy and Huisingh, 2009; Andrews, 2015), production and knowledge transfer (see Florinda, 1995; Cooke and Leydesdorff, 2006; Geuna and Muscio, 2009), innovation (see Youtie and Shapira, 2008; Runiewicz-Wardyn, 2013) and democracy (see Arbo and Benneworth, 2007; Mullin, Kotval and Cooper, 2012).

    The tendency to change the educational policy, the massification of the educational process, to offer access and to attract a more numerous public became one of the mechanisms through which society copes with the global changes at all levels (Geuna and Muscio, 2009; Haralambos and Holborn, 2008, Curaj et al., 2015). According to Lindberg (2007), the extended participation in higher education and continuous learning in developed and developing countries, in the last decades, determined a bigger interest for the decisional factors in the transition process, from the student to the employer, the so called 'education to work' phenomenon.

    In this scenario, the universities became main governing characters, as Florida (1995) and Sternberg (2014) endorse, with the capacity to offer expertise and specific knowledge, know-how exchange (Sedlacek, 2013; Viitanen, Markkula and Soler, 2013), thus contributing to the durable regional development due to the partners' network (local, national, international) and the civic society. Zilahy and Huisingh (2009) observe that, based on empiric evidence, the universities' interest and the regional ones can fully benefit from the communication and cooperation potential among the four characters: students--graduates--employers--universities. Reinforcing the universities' role in knowledge transfer is an important factor, Wise and Wilkinson (2016) considering the regional universities as being a 'driver' for regional innovation. The universities' role to produce knowledge and expertise has a major role in the economic development based on knowledge and innovation, capital which in turn has become a spatial differentiator for sustainability and progress. Asheim and Coenen (2006) have shown the impact of the territorial factors on production growth and on the innovative capacity in a shared space.

    Considering the theoretical approaches, we want to analyze the capacity of spreading the knowledge and innovation capital in the North-West region of Romania between universities, private sector and public sector. This paper also offers a comprehensive image of the role taken by the university system in Romania, locally and regionally, emphasizing what type of relationship defines the changes of outputs and what are the most useful know-how transfer mechanisms from universities towards other sectors and vice versa.

    The main objectives are: O1. To analyze the theoretical approaches concerning the relevance of universities in regional development as a spatial vector that facilitates innovation and knowledge for the local private sector and public sector; O2. To identify the mechanisms and types of networks through which universities, economic agents and government interact at regional level, explicitly in the North-West region of Romania.

    The paper is structured in five sections, the first part explores the literature, especially the relationship between universities--private sector--public sector, relationship found in the literature as 'triple helix', 'knowledge triangle', or 'regional innovation system', and the role of universities in this triad at the local and regional level. The analysis of the impact of universities in local and regional development brings to the fore another concept, 'regional learning', which makes the transition from an abstract triad, that does not have any delimitation, to a spatially delimited form. The second section refers to the conceptual framework that defines the empirical research, with five dimensions being defined: general contextual; legal framework; communication and network; know-how transfer; and future potential; these dimensions are used to analyze the relationship between universities--private sector--public sector, in the local and regional context, at the level of the North-West region. The third section explains the methodology and data that was used for empirical framework in a qualitative manner and in the fourth section we discuss the results using the structure of five dimensions. The last part is summarizing the main findings and furthers the discussion from the perspective of our results.

    We endorse this approach as relevant for adapting public policies to the needs and changes in society, starting from the micro to the macro level. Communication and knowledge exchange can be made extremely fast from the local level to the regional level and further to the national level, so that each entity in this process benefits from the best practice. The bottom-up approach is useful to respond to the requirements and particularities that each entity has, such as those at the local level, and which finally correspond with regional needs. We reinforce the statement from which we started, namely to highlight the role of universities in this process, which is desirable and contributes through many more mechanisms, other than the traditional economic and social roles, to local and regional development.

  2. Literature review

    2.1. Theoretical approaches of university-private sector-public sector triad

    In the past, universities were renowned for keeping a certain distance from local and national governments and towards other social institutions, but this thing changed with the evolution of student numbers, larger public investments for scientific research and the appearance, after the 1990s, of the innovation policy, factors which determined the rise of the influence of the higher education and served as a boost to develop collaboration among these and other society stakeholders (Ciolan et al., 2015). Thus, nowadays, the universities are trying to overcome the old model based only on science and to realize that their role in society is much more complex and that they need to approach, as part of society's sustainable development, areas such as healthcare, the environment and transgenerational problems (Goddard and Puukka, 2008).

    One of the models which suggest analyzing the relationship between universities and regional development is the model based on the university affiliation, the public sector and the private organizations, a partnership called 'Triple Helix'. This is a phrase introduced by Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (1998, 2000) through which the universities' role in economic development is understood as the interactions and interdependence between universities, private sector and government, intermediated by the capacity of the individuals to go from one sphere to another. The 'Triple Helix' model, defined like this at the beginning, was based on three main characters: universities, private organizations, and the public sector (Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz, 1998). The founders of this paradigm discussed more models: an interventionist model, which came from the classic model in which universities and the private sector were a part of the state, and the relationships between them were supervised by the state; the 'laissez-faire' model, in which relationships were separated between the three characters, each one having a direct relationship with the other, but never all three together; and the 'Triple Helix' model that came with a new approach, all three characters finding themselves in a common space developed under the name of 'tri-lateral networks and hybrid organizations' (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 2000).

    The 'Triple Helix' model is an orientation that validates the knowledge and innovation capital of the interregional groups with the desire to develop governing structures that will ensure the planned and systematic coordination between public and private organizations and the universities at a regional level (Asheim and Coenen, 2006; Christopherson and Clark, 2010).

    Markkula and Kune (2015) underline six principles through which the 'Triple Helix' paradigm harmonizes the ecosystem of regional innovation:

    --characters from the three entities: universities, private sector and public sector;

    --structures and networks, with a focus on research and collaboration;

    --premises, with referral to social, virtual and physical development;

    --new organizations (also called hybrid), that represent an extra innovation through technological and scientific incubators;

    --knowledge and technology transfer and co-creation, as they integrate this knowledge capital with the universities, research institutes, private sector and public sector;

    --policy, with a reference to taxation and regulating new instruments.

    An assessment of these principles shows the absence of citizens as characters in the cohesion model among universities, public and private organizations.

    Afterwards, the 'Triple Helix' model was used to develop a new concept, the 'knowledge triangle' (Viitanen, Markkula and Soler, 2013), that configures a triad between research--education--innovation. This triangle invites us to a synergy and collaboration among the stakeholder groups at regional level in order to become sustainable in the global competition and to support the idea of a 'regional innovation system' (Markkula si Kune...

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