Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED Programme)

Innovation Systems and the role of small and specialist Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)


The OECD LEED Programme has contributed to a report by UK Guild-HE on the role of small and specialist higher education institutions (HEIs) in local economic development. Small and specialist HEIs have been identified as those which support growth in regions where access to research and is limited and/or in sectors where their expertise is particularly required.

The report shows that small specialist HEIs very often work with public and private partners in specific sectors and areas such as creative industries, food security and health and social innovation. In doing so, they have a unique potential to collaborate with diverse bodies of users: students and graduates, businesses and providers of public services. Through their applied research, small and specialist HEIs are also well positioned to fill the gap between blue-sky research and the innovative needs of local businesses. These HEIs are also characterised by partnerships with local sectors which rely on skilled labour force, for example the fashion industry or the maritime sector as shown in two cases-studies of the report.

The OECD has contributed to this report through four local case-studies from OECD countries:

  • Mondragon University and business and technology in the Basque region (Regional Agendas-case study 1; page 86)
  • The Milwaukee Institute of Art Design and redesigning the manufacturing economy in the Midwest (Regional Agendas-case study 3; page 120)
  • The Aalesund University College and the maritime industries (Specialist approaches to innovation in a global context-case study 2; page 176)
  • Mobile Experience Innovation Centre at OCAD University (Smart, Creative and sustainable business-case study 3; page 223)

Read the report:


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