The rapid expansion of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)over recent decades has been followed by growing scrutiny of their role in knowledge production and regional development. Rising expectations placed on HEIs have been met by significant shifts in their internal culture, organization and leadership. Allied to this, increased uncertainty and volatility in the HE sector is having far-reaching impacts on the day-to-day research, teaching and public activities in which HEIs are engaged. Today, the diverse pressures on universities are creating many tensions and contradictions which are difficult to resolve, with stakeholders having different expectations that often pull in contrary directions. How HEIs respond to these issues will undoubtedly have major ramifications for regional development.

This theme seeks a step change in how we think about “the role” of universities and other HEIs in regional development. We encourage proposals that reflect the far-reaching implications of this fast-changing environment within which HEIs operate, and which approach the task of influencing policy and practice in novel, creative and ambitious ways.


Key issues to be addressed could include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Assessing the regional development implications of different models of university engagement in cities and regions – what works?
  • Evaluating what universities are “good for” rather than what universities are “good at”.
  • Where is leadership coming from, and capacity housed, in cities and regions – what role for universities, how should universities work with other place-shapers?
  • Examining the enabling/disabling factors for universities being drivers of urban and regional change.
  • Improving the input from universities in open innovation and the quadruple helix (university, industry, government, civil society) policies and programmes.
  • Responding to the change in gravity away from the social science of cities and regions within the Academy, towards science, technology, engineering and infrastructure for policy and practice interventions – where does social science fit in, what is the public value of social scientific research?

Proposals which are international in scope and co-produced with policymakers and practitioners are particularly encouraged, and proposals should lead to new policy recommendations/outcomes.

Applications are invited on the following themes (Call for Applications)