The role of Higher Education Institutions in the knowledge economy

Laura Williams, Senior Researcher with The Work Foundation, investigated the role of Higher Education Institutions in the knowledge economy in UK.

Looking at what the knowledge economy means for Higher Education Institutions and cities, she challenged some of the myths that contribute to confusion.

Myth 1 – The knowledge economy is only about graduates
Broadly, the knowledge economy is what you get when you bring together highly trained workers and powerful computers. Successful Cities – those that are thriving in the
knowledge economy, such as Manchester, London and Edinburgh – tend to have a broad mix of skills. The growth of an affluent and mobile knowledge workforce stimulates demand for services, retail, leisure, housing and schools, meaning that a successful knowledge city needs more than a critical mass of graduates, it also needs people with other skills to work in these important sectors.

Myth 2 – A University is an essential 'ingredient' of a knowledge city
Certainly, a University have an important role. But other Higher Education Institutions will also be important. What is important, then, is not a University, but the whole
system of higher and further education institutions that combine to make the City successful and attractive for investment and to students.

Myth 3 – Regional strategies should focus on science parks
Although there are a number of success stories, science and technology is just a small part of the knowledge. It is also important to consider how to develop the
relationships between the private sector, public bodies and Education Institutes) to benefit other sectors.

She recommends :

1. Relationship between Cities and Higher Education Institutions should be for developed and measured against tangible economic and social outcomes.

2. This relationship should involve three parties : private sector, organisations that would seek to invest in and capitalise on research activities and, Higher Education Institution.

3. There needs to be clarity about what the priorities are. Tough decisions need to be made about what is relevant to the area, what can be achieved and who best to involve.

4. A recognition of the importance of Higher Education Institutions is a relatively new phenomenon and for outcomes to be achieved a successful approach needs to also focus on cultural change.

Source : Williams L. - In the know. Public Service Review : Transport, Local Government and the Regions, 10, 2007.