Beyond the ivory towers

Centres of higher learning often exude a rarefied air. From the spires of Oxford to the lanes of Bologna, a remoteness from local communities and disdain for the commercial world are still a common characterisation, if not a tradition.
This attitude may have to evolve, says a recent OECD report. With their rich source of ideas, services and skilled people, higher education institutions should reach out much more and contribute to the development of their regions. Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged estimates, for example, that only 10% of UK firms currently interact with universities, with a focus on high-tech fields.Nor is improving corporate relations just about funding for research. Rather, services or cultural aspects intrinsic to many universities, such as museums, libraries, galleries, orchestras or sporting events, should be tapped for local development too. After all, services account for 70% of the OECD workforce, and cultural industries are becoming a major driver globally, accounting for 7% of GDP and growing at 10% annually.           The MIT Industrial Liaison Office is one innovative example, whose membership fee gives companies unlimited access to specialised information services. Co-operation between the University Jaume I in Spain and the Ceramic Industry Research Association has led among other things to the creation of a laboratory to provide quality tests for ceramic products, so enabling the autonomous Valencian Community to excel in the tile and ceramic industry. Asia’s largest film festival, in Busan, Korea, is supported by several higher education institutions.Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged suggests that countries should push such university interaction further. Universities themselves should become more entrepreneurial, for although business is not the aim of academia, higher education institutions are an underexploited link to the global knowledge economy and can open gateways to innovation and growth. For more information, see 9789264034143©OECD Observer No 263, October 2007

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