Higher Education Policy

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 443–462 | Cite as

Between Rigour and Regional Relevance? Conceptualising Tensions in University Engagement for Socio-Economic Development

  • Paul BenneworthEmail author
  • Mitchell Young
  • Roger Normann
Original Article


Universities should place delivering societal benefits centrally within their strategic decision-making. But this comes at a time when universities face extensive pressures to transform every aspect of their institutional existence, raising questions about whether the third mission can ever truly be a strategic objective for higher education. To understand this tension, this paper explores the ways in which national higher education policies frame the strategic latitude that universities enjoy to engage with regional partners in teaching and research activities. Presenting case studies from the Czech Republic and Norway, the paper reveals that the space for regional engagement is squeezed at every stage as universities seek to implement national directives whilst remaining true to their regional roots. We conclude by arguing better understanding the regional mission requires better understanding the processes by which regional engagement is framed as un-prestigious by wider policy fields.


third mission regional engagement strategic management policy tensions civic universities 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2009–014 and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports under Project Contract no. MSMT-5397/2015. The authors would like to thank the editor and reviewers for their thoughtful comments on two earlier versions that have greatly improved the paper. Any errors remain the responsibility of the authors.


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Copyright information

© International Association of Universities 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Benneworth
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Mitchell Young
    • 3
  • Roger Normann
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Higher Education Policy StudiesUniversity of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands
  2. 2.AgderforskningKristiansand SNorway
  3. 3.Centre for Higher Education StudiesPragueCzech Republic

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