RUNIN – The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development

Uploaded by RRI Tools on 05 March 2018



From 01/09/2016 to 31/08/2020

The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development (RUNIN) is a European Training Network for Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the field of science and innovation studies. 

The aim of the RUNIN network program is to train researchers on how universities contribute to innovation and economic growth in their regions through research seeking to examine how universities fulfill their third mission in relation to regional industry and explore the range of university engagement with regional firms and institutions.

The network program focuses on how universities can contribute to innovation and regional development through four main themes:

  1. People and Networks
  2. Policies and Interventions
  3. Places and Territories
  4. Practices and Governance.

The research theme People and Networks focuses on the role of individuals and their networks in knowledge transfer between universities and firms. While much research on collaboration and knowledge transfer examines networks between organisations, individuals are always the key agents in such collaboration. This is particularly true for universities, where individual academics have wide autonomy and tend to develop extensive personal networks both within and outside academia.

Four PhD projects relate to this research theme:

  • The PhD project “Networks of individuals in university-industry relationship” examines the nature and geography of academics’ personal networks across different universities. The project will assess the role of individual- and institutional-level factors in the development of these networks and the role of academic mobility in developing personal networks.
  • The PhD project “The role of informal versus formal networks for prosperous university-industry interaction” takes the point of view of firms as well as universities in an analysis of the role of informal personal and socially embedded networks with more formal organisational level networks in creating successful collaboration between universities and firms. Increasingly, PhD students find employment in the non-academic sector after completion of their degree and may retain contacts with supervisors and former colleagues. This can provide important channels for knowledge exchange between universities and firms or public-sector organisations.
  • The PhD project “PhD education for a future labour market” examines the extent to which universities adapt to this changing reality by integrating learning and the development of transferable skills in their PhD education, and to what extent this matches the type of skills demanded by employers outside academia.
  • The PhD project “Collaboration and mobility as learning opportunities in PhD education” explores the role of university-firm interaction in PhD education. Whether in the form of mobility placements, participation in collaboration projects or commercialisation, such interaction can provide important sources of learning for PhD students, in particular in the context of developing transferable skills.

The research theme Policies and Interventions examines the interaction of universities with public policy, both as subjects of policy interventions and as participants in policy networks. On the one hand, universities are targets of public policy, being in the European context mostly publicly owned and regulated by government policy. Thus, public policy plays a large role in determining how universities interact with firms and regions, both through formal requirements and regulations and through monetary or other incentives for such interaction. Nonetheless, the effect of public policy is not always straightforward, but rather interacts with local institutional and organisational conditions at the university in determining outcomes.

Three PhD projects relate to this research theme:

  • The PhD project ”Knowledge systems for intelligent university regional engagement policy” explores how particular outputs generated by universities through their regional engagement activities translate into changes in regional economic development performance, and how policy-makers can seek to understand the meso-impacts of their micro-policy interventions around university-regional engagement. On the other hand, universities also provide inputs to public policy, not least in the area of regional development and innovation policy. The university is an important stakeholder in the development of regional innovation programmes and often a major source of knowledge and learning . The project will therefore also examine the contributions of universities to regional innovation policy and regional development programmes.
  • The PhD project ”Universities and regional (innovation) policy and practice” examines how universities act as agents in regional development processes, mapping the range of activities in which they are involved and the institutional and organisational challenges they face in taking up this role across varying regional contexts.
  • The PhD project ”Universities as actors in regional development programmes” focuses on the engagement of universities with regional development policies through participation in Structural Funds and national programmes. Universities and other regional institutions may form regional partnerships to compete for such funding, contributing to the formation of university-business or university-public sector networks.

This research theme examines the role of Places and Territories in structuring interactions between firms and universities in terms of both local production structures and global value chains. The roles that universities can play in regional innovation depend crucially on the industry structure and knowledge base of the firms and work force in the region.

Three PhD projects relate to this research theme:

  • The PhD project ”Industry-University collaboration in different types of regions” explores the different contributions of universities to innovation in different types of regions, focusing particularly on the difference between universities located in central and peripheral regions. The project will examine the breadth and types of collaboration portfolios that universities develop in different regional contexts and build new understanding of the drivers of different forms of collaboration.
  • The PhD project ”Dimensions of proximity in university-industry interaction” explores the spatiality of relationships between universities and firms and the role of distance in successful collaboration and knowledge transfer, using an international research project as a case. Universities have an important role to play not only as producers of knowledge within the region, but also as conduits of knowledge within extra-regional networks.
  • The PhD project ”Universities as regional nodes in global knowledge networks” explores the role of universities as nodes in global knowledge networks between the region and knowledge producers elsewhere in the world. Academic researchers are embedded in global networks that provide access to new ideas and knowledge being generated around the world.

This research theme focuses on Practices and Governance, examining changing practices of university-firm interaction and how this is affecting the governance of universities and of their interaction arrangements with firms.

Four PhD projects relate to this research theme:

  • Starting from the perspective of assessing the impact of university-firm interaction practices, the PhD project ”Assessing the impact of the collaboration university – firm” compares firms’ financial performance between those collaborating with universities and those not collaborating. The project develops a method of measurement that will quantify the contributions of collaboration with universities to the financial performance of firms and to firm survival.
  • The PhD project ”New modes of university governance for dynamic regional stakeholder engagement” will explore how universities are developing new modes of governance to adapt to the changing circumstances, and in particular, the challenge of responding to pressures for external engagement alongside maintaining teaching and/or research excellence.
  • The PhD project ”Culture, the changing nature of innovation and the institutional challenges to the University” explores changing practices at universities in the context of the growing acceptance of the role of arts and culture in developing knowledge capital and human-centred innovation. The project will examine how universities as institutions respond to these changing circumstances.
  • The PhD project ”From triple to quadruple helix: the role of society/citizens/customers in innovation” explores the changing role of universities within broader networks that also include civil society, which are being foregrounded in recent models of regional innovation governance systems . This has implications for practices of university-firm interaction and for the governance of networks in which universities are involved.


  • University of Stavanger, Centre for Innovation Research, Norway
  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln Business School, United Kingdom
  • University of Twente, Center for Higher Education Policy Studies, The Netherlands
  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Department of Business, Spain
  • Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Sweden
  • University of Aveiro, Department of Social, Political and Territorial Sciences, Portugal
  • Aalborg University, Department of Business and Management, Denmark
  • Intermunicipal Community of the Region of Aveiro (CIRA), Portugal
  • Regio Twente, The Netherlands


Other partner organisations

  • Lincolnshire County Council, Department of Economy and Culture, United Kingdom
  • DEA, Denmark
  • Greater Stavanger, Norway
  • North Denmark Region, Department of Regional Development, Denmark
  • East Sweden Region, Innovation and Business Development, Sweden
  • Fundació Catalunya – La Pedrera, Knowledge and Research Department, Spain
  • Parc de Recerca UAB, Spain

Professor Rune Dahl Fitjar 

University of Stavanger

  • Total cost:: EUR 3 709 815,84
  • EU contribution: EUR 3 709 815,84

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