Spaces of novelty: Can universities play a catalytic role in less developed regions?
Over the past few decades, universities have been asked to become ever more involved in the development of their regions and countries, through knowledge dissemination, contribution to policy debates or even by becoming leaders in stakeholder coalitions. However, as has been often pointed out, for universities to have an impact on regional fortunes it is necessary to have an appropriate innovation ecosystem, which is often lacking in less developed regions. We approach this issue by discussing the three interrelated dimensions of knowledge supply, demand, and translational activities, through two case studies of university–business engagement in Wales. We also distinguish between narrow forms of engagement, based strictly on the commercialisation of knowledge, and contrast them with broader forms of engagement. Finally, we discuss the practical and normative challenges associated with these interactions, such as the danger of appropriation of public resources by private organisations.
Marques P., Morgan K., Healy A. & Vallance P. (2019) Spaces of novelty: Can universities play a catalytic role in less developed regions? Science and Public Policy, 46(5), 763–771.
INGENIO (CSIC-UPV), Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain
The interview transcript
Hi, welcome to coffee break with researchers.
Today we are at the Regional Innovation Policies Conference in Florence, and I’m having an actual coffee break with Pedro Marques. He is a researcher at INGENIO this is a research center affiliated to the Spanish National Research Council and a Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain.
Thank you Pedro, it is a pleasure to have you here in coffee break and in this conference, how are you doing?
I’m doing very well thank you very much for this invitation. It’s a pleasure to be doing having this coffee break with you.
I am not asking you today about which coffee are you having because I know you’re having a Colombian black coffee.
Indeed, that’s very good.
I want to talk with you about recent paper you wrote with your colleagues about how universities can play a catalytic role in regional development through their engagement activities. Could you please tell me what the paper was about?
So the paper was specifically about universities and in less developed regions and he was trying to understand how they can, through their research activities, and through their knowledge, contribute to regional development. I think it’s important to know that, our let’s say approach to the paper was more through the regional development part so even though universities were the key agents we wanted to look at the whole system that allows them to become to have a catalytic effect on their regional economies and we also wanted to look at the potential negative consequences of this because I think it’s not often discussed but there can also be some negative impacts practical and normative and so we also discussed that at the end of the paper.
So I can see that one of the key notions of your paper is the one about innovation Ecosystem could you please clarify it.
What this means is that when we look at very successful regions where you have, you know, good universities then people come out of these universities and create successful companies, you often look at just that story and you forget that there’s actually a lot of institutions and a lot of people around them that help them to have such a successful trajectory so this idea of the innovation ecosystem a bit like a real ecosystems is that you have a lot of different components and they all make a contribution, for instance, inside the university you have a good research center you know do you have supported the university outside of it you have people that can give you financial support, legal support, management support and then also do you have other companies in the region that you can work with so this is the idea right that innovation is not just about having a good idea and turning it in and turning it into something that can be sold but it’s about the whole support system, which we call it an ecosystem.
Thank you for that, and based on that could you please explain to me which ones were the main findings of your paper?
Because we were looking specifically at less developed regions in this case Wales in the UK, you know with my co-workers we did this two case studies, on one on smart coatings for buildings and another one on semiconductors, so we’re looking at a region that does not have a very strong innovation ecosystem and so we’re trying to understand how could they develop these projects, and so our main findings is that at this level you have to be quite creative you have to build on your capacities and then you have to go and find partners wherever they’re available not necessarily next to maybe in this case in London in other parts of the UK you have to find funding from different sources you have to be able to bring all of these things together in order to make it work and I think this is the main finding is that if you don’t have a local innovation ecosystem you have to be able to build it and maybe bring people from other places and you have to be creative in the way you do that.
If I may ask you which one was their main personal motivation in writing this paper.
Well for me particularly is that I’ve always been interested about the development of less developed regions in countries partly because of where I’m from. I’m originally from Portugal and so from the beginning my motivation for all my research really was understanding, okay you have these places that have served a certain level of development but they are struggling to go up, you know, to higher levels of income and productivity and in growth and so what can help them, and I think a lot of the answer there is knowledge and technology and being capable of doing new things maybe even disruptive that can really change your productive system.
I have to copy to that I was very interested also in that part of your research because I come from a developing country, Colombia, so thinking of such type of countries, which one would you say are the main policy implications of your research?
Well, I think you know if you look at these projects you come up with maybe three major implications, one is that you have to be realistic about what you can do so you have to build on the strengths that you have, in this case there was already capacity in this field there was research capacity that was already some collaborations with firms so they built on this, and then invested a lot so I think this is important. The second thing is you have to be creative in the way you manage these things and the way you get resources so as we’ve always been saying in this field you cannot go for one-size-fits-all policies you have to think very clearly about how you can pull together different people, different companies, different centers, different sources of funding in order to make it work and you also have to be a little bit ambitious and also as we say at the end of the paper you have to be careful about the potential negative aspects of this, so as I was saying at the beginning this was also one of our concerns sometimes the policy can be hijacked by special interests you have to think about whether you’re making good use of public money I do think that this is important but primarily you know be realistic be creative and be ambitious.
Thank you for that great message. And thanks again for your time and for having this nice chat with me and I wish you all the best in your future research and hope to see you next time. Thank you very much.
Thank you for watching if you’re interested in more details about this academic publication find here the link and see you next time bye.Tags: engagement, Innovation, less developed regions, universities