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Universities as driving forces for change in regions and cities

15 October 2019

Universities as driving forces for change in regions and cities was the topic of the Coimbra Group workshop which was held on 8 October in Brussels, at the premises of the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU.

The workshop explored the role of universities in innovation ecosystems by outlying successful examples of university-city partnerships across Coimbra Group universities and their corresponding cities. The aim was to engage in a dialogue with policy makers and other relevant stakeholders on how to improve synergies to foster the social, cultural and economic wealth of regions and cities.

The case studies presented at the workshop highlighted the role played by universities in their local ecosystems and their impact on the social, cultural and economic wealth of regions and cities. Examples ranged from integrating students and alumni in the debates and activities related to university-city partnerships, to how fundamental research carried out at universities informs local policy making, to how universities and their municipalities work together in addressing issues such as, among others, prevention of criminal behaviour in youth, housing shortage and reaching out to the local community by opening up academic courses. The keynote speeches were delivered by:

Veronika Hunt Šafránková, Head of the UN Environment Brussels Office, who encouraged universities to team up with local, regional and global stakeholders to help cities develop sustainably;

Kurt Vandenberghe, Director for Policy Development and Coordination, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission, who stressed the importance of diffusion of knowledge as the latter is Europe’s resource today and in the future and in a fast-changing society, building resilience of people will happen through education and lifelong learning;

Katja Reppel, Deputy Head of Unit, DG Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission, outlined the main points for the next generation of smart specialisation and how universities are a stepping stone for international contacts in their local ecosystems.

The presentations from the workshop are available here.

The topic of universities in innovation ecosystems was also addressed at several other big events this month, including the European Week of Regions and Cities and the University-Business Forum, both organised by the European institutions.

Within the European Week of Regions and Cities, the Coimbra Group Office attended the session “Maximising the Contribution of Universities to Regional Innovation – Lessons and Toolkits for Policymaking”, which centred around the challenges encountered by universities in realising their full potential in contributing to regional innovation and how University-City partnerships and their effectiveness differ depending on the place where they are located and on the local leadership. A summary of the session conclusions and the presentations are available here.

At the University-Business Forum, the Coimbra Group office attended the session on supporting social innovation. The focus of this session was on how higher education institutions and local actors can collaborate to design and implement programmes that provide graduates with the skills needed at both the local and regional level. Examples ranged from local initiatives by start-ups, universities and foundations fostering inclusion, entrepreneurship and a “learning from failure” culture.

Finally, another very interesting debate around universities in innovation ecosystems has been organised by the European University Association and will take place in Brussels on 6 November. More information is available here.