AuthorHintea, Calin E.
  1. Introduction

    The last three decades have witnessed a growing body of literature on the changing role and functions of universities. Concepts such as the 'engaged university' (Watson et al., 2013), 'multiversity' (Kerr, 2001), and 'university as a complex enterprise' (Rouse, 2016) have been discussed and evaluated by academics and practitioners. More recently, scholars have also turned their attention to the role of universities within the framework of local innovation ecosystems (Cai, Ma and Chen, 2020; Heaton, Siegel and Teece, 2019), where universities interact with, grow and coproduce innovation alongside or in partnership with the other relevant actors in these ecosystems. Thus, the current research investigates how, through a variety of engagement related functions, universities can foster social, economic, and technological development in the cities that host them. The article also evaluates strategies that U.S. universities use as engaged actors in their communities and inquires whether these best practices from the U.S. can be transferred and adapted to the context of other countries, including Romania. Our research is based on the assumption that this transfer is not always unidirectional. Indeed, by focusing on two jurisdictions in different national contexts and where university engagement is currently at different levels of maturity, we offer a comparative perspective that we hope will enhance universities' community engagement everywhere.

    While at the international level the concept and practice of the engaged university is more than two decades old, Romanian universities have developed completely separate from the community and in relative isolation from other local and regional stakeholders. This separation has often produced inter-institutional tensions and a climate of distrust. In the last several years, case studies have featured large Romanian cities where innovation and economic development has become closely linked to nearby universities (Cluj-Napoca is probably the best known example) (Profiroiu and Briscariu, 2021). These few success stories suggest that universities constitute significant community assets for local and regional development, for fostering social and technological innovation, and for making cities more tolerant and inclusive. Given the growing importance of the knowledge-based economy, where highly educated individuals drive innovation, it follows that universities are key sources of added value for their communities. This is highly relevant because cities are now considered the growth engines of national economies (Polese, 2005; Dobbs et al., 2011; United Nations, 2018). This interdependence is complicated however and depends on numerous variables. Our research strives to add to the state of the art in this field not only by broadening the theoretical understanding of the evolving role of universities in city development from a comparative perspective (US and Romania), but also by endeavoring to equip universities from Romania and worldwide with practical recommendations for becoming more engaged in the future.

    The article proceeds as follows: section two analyzes the changing role of universities and the connection with the communities which host them. Section three offers an overview of the US and Romanian higher education system. Section four describes the methodology of the two empirical studies conducted in the US and Romania concerning university engagement, section five presents the main findings while section six offers a brief discussion of the main findings and main conclusions.

  2. The changing role of universities and their connection to their communities

    The evolution over time of higher education institutions is closely linked with cities (Harris and Holley, 2016; Muro et al., 2008) and a sizable body of research has already examined the specific effects of universities on economic growth (Shahid and Kaoru, 2007; Valero and Van Reenen, 2016; Geuna and Rossi, 2015). Less attention has been paid however to the non-economic benefits generated by universities on cities (Harris and Holley, 2016) and to how these institutions interact with city governments and local businesses within sophisticated networks that are currently characterizing modern city-regions worldwide (Melhuis, 2015). Our research will examine not only the evolving role of universities but also how universities are intricately linked to some of the major trends currently shaping the evolution of cities globally.

    A significant shift for cities in the last decades has involved the transition to a knowledge-based economy (van Winden, 2009). Historically, the economic growth of cities was associated with industrial production (Hospers, 2003). Currently, however, the cities which thrive in a global competitive arena are those that foster economic innovation, develop collaborative partnerships not only with the business sector but also with the academic community, and enjoy certain territorial assets such as a healthy transportation infrastructure, and demonstrate strong links between academia and businesses (McKinsey Global Institute, 2012). Capacity to sustain a high living standard for residents is equally important (Huggins and Johnston, 2009). Smart cities, another popular concept used in connection with rapidly growing city regions (Kourtit and Nijkamp, 2012), includes an emphasis of the public-private partnership as a way to engage non-traditional actors, including universities, in promoting innovations for urban prosperity and livability (Goodman, 2015).

    Cities are currently described as political actors sharing unique qualities when compared to national states and supranational organizations. Thus, it is cities rather than nation states that tend to be pragmatic and creative, and that engage in broad partnerships. Nor must cities attend to the delicate international issues associated with borders and sovereignty. Because of these qualities, city mayors, alone and in partnership with other actors, respond to transnational issues more effectively than nation states (Barber, 2013). Cities thus arguably become the perfect locus for innovation, social and economic development and partnership with other actors, including universities, for advancing lofty global goals such as environmental protection, inclusion of migrants, and safety.

    But not all cities are created equally. While some have been able to evolve into competitive city regions of the global economy, others are lagging behind (Cunningham-Sabot and Fol, 2009; Rink, 2006). Cities which have traditionally depended on one industry are less resilient and able to reinvent themselves in light of new opportunities (Glaeser and Saiz, 2003). Cities experiencing challenges usually encounter not only the loss of traditional jobs but also degradation of urban settings and vacant properties, population loss, and a variety of negative social problems associated with poverty and urban decay (Pallagst et al., 2009). In their case, the presence of strong and committed higher education institutions may be the only available option for city redevelopment (Glaeser and Saiz, 2003).

    Against this backdrop, the main question is whether universities should actively engage in economic and/or social change, or they should instead focus on their traditional functions, namely research and teaching (O'Mara, 2012). Altbach (2008) points out that there is a mismatch between the increasing roles universities are being called upon to fulfill and the resources given to them. In order to capture the evolving functions of universities and their incredible diversification Kerr (2001) coined the term 'multiversity'. Traditionally, teaching and research have been the two main functions performed by universities. This goes back to the early 19th century Humboldtian model of higher education. According to this model, teaching and research are closely interlinked, with teaching being guided by current research. Research was however to be initiated and conducted in complete separation from the broader society, with the aim of keeping it unbiased and independent from ideological, economic, political or religious influences (Kwiek, 2006). This meant complete separation of universities from community and the market (Anderson, 2004). These German educational and scientific principles have been recognized as a solid foundation for higher education institutions worldwide. American universities could be perhaps described as early adopters of these principles compared to other jurisdictions (Berman, 2012). However, starting with the 1970s, first in the U.S. but also in other countries, new functions were assumed by universities. The crux of these functions is what Todtling (2006, p. 2) calls 'economic utilization of publicly funded research'. This may take the form of knowledge and technology transfer to industry and the commercialization of knowledge. Moreover, universities were also called upon to play a more active role in national and regional innovation systems. This new type of university, acting as an economic engine, diverges from Humboldt's principles (Nybom, 2003; Scott, 1993). Another departure from these principles is represented by the land-grant universities in the U.S. The Morrill Act establishing these universities endeavored to make universities responsible for providing practical education to broad segments of population in fields such as agriculture (Brown, Pendleton-Jullian and Adler, 2010).

    The role of universities as active stakeholders in their communities rather than unengaged ivory towers is analyzed, mostly in the U.S. context but also elsewhere, in close connection with the concept of the 'anchor institution' (Taylor and Luter, 2013; Benson and Harkavy, 1994). Anchor institutions include universities but also hospitals and museums, and they have several characteristics which differentiate them from other organizations (Harris and Holley, 2016)...

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